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Smith v. Lampe - 64 F.2d 201 (6th Cir. 1933)


Where a negligent act originates on land and the damage occurs on water, the cause of action is within the admiralty jurisdiction. The locality of the thing to be considered is that of the thing injured, and not of the agent causing the injury, and when the injury is to a vessel afloat, even though the negligence originated on land, the tort is maritime, and within the admiralty jurisdiction.


Lampe, the libelant and the owner of a tug and barge, brought an action against respondent Smith, who lived on Lakeside avenue, close to the shore of the lake. Lampe claimed that the negligent signaling by respondent Smith with the horn of Smith's automobile during a thick fog on Lake Erie caused the loss of his barge. Specifically, the Libelant had arranged with the tug's captain to sound signals to aid his approach of the harbor in a thick fog. The captain heard no answers to his fog signals, and began cruising down the lake. Respondent Smith heard the boats' signals and sounded his automobile horn with the purpose of warning them off from the shore. The vessels approached until it became apparent from the depth that they were not in the harbor; however, they turned around too late to save the barge, which ran aground and sank. The District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division entered an interlocutory decree in favor of the libelant Lampe, and Respondent Smith appealed.


Was the signaling by Smith with the horn of his automobile during a fog cause the loss of Lampe's barge?




The court held that, in order to warrant a finding that negligence was the proximate cause of an injury, injury at least in some form ought to have been foreseen under the circumstances. The court could not see how any injury could have been reasonably anticipated by respondent Smith as a consequence of his well-intentioned signaling. The court noted that respondent did not know of the arrangement made with libelant and the captain of the tug, what boats were out on the lake, or the meaning of fog signals or the proper answer to be made to them. The court found no substantial evidence to sustain a finding that the acts of respondent were the legal and proximate cause of the loss suffered by libelant. The appellate court reversed the interlocutory decree in favor of Lampe and remanded to the district court.

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