Law School Case Brief
Rodi Yachts, Inc. v. Nat'l Marine, Inc. - 984 F.2d 880 (7th Cir. 1993)
The rule in admiralty is that joint tortfeasors are entitled to allocate a plaintiff's damages among themselves in accordance with their relative fault.
A barge owned by National Marine, Inc. cast adrift when it slipped its moorings at a dock operated by Transport Distributors, Inc. (TDI), in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, collided with another dock and two boats, causing damages that have been stipulated in an amount slightly in excess of $ 100,000. The owners of the damaged property brought suit in admiralty against National Marine, which impleaded TDI, which in turn impleaded the subsidiary of National Marine that had operated the tugboat (Lemont Harbor and Fleeting Services). After a bench trial, the judge ruled that both National Marine and TDI had been negligent and assessed the former's fault at twice the latter's, meaning that National Marine would have to pay two-thirds of the damages. National Marine appealed, contending that TDI was solely at fault. TDI cross-appealed, arguing that National Marine was solely at fault.
Was it correct to assess National Marine to pay two-thirds of the damages incurred by the owners of the damaged property?
The Court vacated the judgment of the district court. It found that barge owners and dock owners/operators could minimize their liability costs to third parties by allocating responsibility between them, which could be done explicitly or implicitly by abiding by the custom that the market has evolved. In the instant case, the custom was for a barge owner/operator to moor the barge to the dock with a sufficient number of sound ropes, carefully fastened, and for the dock owner/operator to inspect the barge from time to time while it was at the dock to make sure that the mooring lines remain securely fastened. Here, the Court could not determine whether National Marine or TDI violated its duty of care and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings.
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