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U.S. Supreme Court

The Steamboat New World v. King, 57 U.S. 16 How. 469 469 (1853)

The Steamboat New World v. King

57 U.S. (16 How.) 469


Where a libel was filed, claiming compensation for injuries sustained by a passenger in a steamboat, proceeding from Sacramento to San Francisco, in California, the case is within the admiralty jurisdiction of the courts of the United States.

The circumstance that the passenger was a "steamboat man," and as such carried gratuitously, does not deprive him of the right of redress enjoyed by other passengers. It was the custom to carry such persons free.

The master had power to bind the boat by giving such a free passage.

The principle asserted in 55 U. S. 14 How. 486 reaffirmed, namely that

"when carriers undertake to convey persons by the agency of steam, public policy and safety require that they should be held to the greatest possible care and diligence."

The theory and cases examined relative to the three degrees of negligence, namely, slight, ordinary, and gross.

Skill is required for the proper management of the boilers and machinery of a steamboat, and the failure to exert that skill, either because it is not possessed or from inattention, is gross negligence.

The 13th section of the Act of Congress passed on the 7th of July, 1838, 5 Stat. 306, makes the injurious escape of steam prima facie evidence of negligence, and the owners of the boat, in order to escape from responsibility, must prove that there was no negligence.

Page 57 U. S. 470

The facts in this case, as disclosed by the evidence, do not disprove negligence. On the contrary they show that the boat in question was one of two rival boats which were "doing their best" to get ahead of each other; that efforts had been made to pass; that the engineer of the boat in question was restless, and constantly watching the hindmost boat; and that the owners of the boat have failed to prove that she carried only the small quantity of steam which they alleged.

This was a libel filed by King, complaining of severe personal injury, disabling him for life, from the explosion of the boiler of the steamboat New World while he was a passenger, on her passage from Sacramento to San Francisco, in California.

The district court decreed for the libellant in twenty-five hundred dollars damages and costs, and the owners of the boat appealed to this Court.

The substance of the evidence is stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 57 U. S. 472

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