Law School Case Brief
King Fisher Marine Serv., Inc. v. The NP Sunbonnet - 724 F.2d 1181 (5th Cir. 1984)
When a vessel is lost or damaged the owner is entitled to its money equivalent, and thereby to be put in as good a position pecuniarily as if his property had not been destroyed. Where a vessel is a total loss the measure of damages is the market value at the time of the loss. Where there are insufficient sales to establish a market other evidence such as replacement cost, depreciation, expert opinion and the amount of insurance can also be considered to determine the value of the lost vessel.
King Fisher, president of King Fisher Marine Service, Inc. (“King Fisher Marine”), purchased a barge for $ 30,000, intending to turn it into a drydock. King Fisher had searched for several years for a similar barge. The barge sank and was never recovered after being towed by Newpark Marine Services, Inc. (“Newpark”). Plaintiff barge owner King Fisher Marine sued defendant tugboat operator Newpark for damages. The district court found that the barge was seaworthy and that Newpark's negligence caused the loss of the barge. Newpark appealed the award of $232,996 in damages to King Fisher Marine.
In an negligence action against defendant tugboat tow operator Newpark, where the barge while being towed, did the district court err in finding the vessel seaworthy and awarding damages plus interest to plaintiff barge owner King Fisher Marine?
The United States Court of Appeals found that plaintiff barge owner King Fisher Marine was entitled to be made whole for the loss, which was the loss of a potential drydock. The Court noted that King Fisher Marine spent the total award purchasing and repairing another barge to meet the same purpose as the lost barge. The Court also found that defendant Newpark tugboat operator was negligent in towing the barge because it had noticed, before towing, that several hatches were open, into which water might flow if washed across the decks, and Newpark failed to take reasonable care after noticing this condition. The Court affirmed the judgment in favor of King Fisher Marine, finding that the award was not excessive because it represented the replacement cost of the potential drydock. The district court's findings that Newpark was negligent and its refusal to find the barge unseaworthy were not clearly erroneous.
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