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The broad and just purpose which the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1346 and 2674, was designed to effect was to compensate the victims of negligence in the conduct of governmental activities in circumstances like unto those in which a private person would be liable and not to leave just treatment to the caprice and legislative burden of individual private laws. Of course, when dealing with a statute subjecting the government to liability for potentially great sums of money, the court must not promote profligacy by careless construction. Neither should it as a self-constituted guardian of the treasury import immunity back into a statute designed to limit it.
After a tug towing a barge loaded with cargo ran aground, causing damage to the petitioners sued the government under the FTCA, claiming the grounding was due solely to the failure of a lighthouse light that was negligently operated by the Coast Guard. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that sovereign immunity had not been waived under the FTCA and recovery could be had only under the Suits in Admiralty Act or the Public Vessels Act. The motion was granted and the appellate court affirmed.
Were the governmental activities of the kind involved in the present case within the scope of the act, which provides (28 USC 2674) that the United States shall be liable "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances"?
The Supreme Court also affirmed, but on petition for rehearing, that judgment was vacated and the dismissal was reversed upon application of the "good Samaritan" rule and the FTCA, 28 U.S.C.S. § 2674; the government having voluntarily undertaken to operate a lighthouse to warn of danger and thereby inducing reliance thereon, it had a duty to perform that task in a careful manner, as a private individual would be under like circumstances.