British Transport Commission v. United States

PETITIONER: British Transport Commission
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: The United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 354 US 129 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 29, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 10, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for British Transport Commission v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 29, 1957 (Part 1) in British Transport Commission v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 29, 1957 (Part 2) in British Transport Commission v. United States

Earl Warren:

Mr. Dow, you may proceed.

Wilbur E. Dow, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

I think it would help the Court a little to understand what this thing is all about, before we go any further.

When the Haiti Victory cut through the bow of the Duke of York one night in the English Channel, as you might suppose a lot of people were killed, injured, and lost their property.

Now, you have heard here that a 104 out of the 115 were from other parts of the world, even as far away as Australia, so to let them sue over there if they want to collect anything.

But five out of the eight people that died were Americans and they constitute the bulk of these claims.

Now, it would also help if we knew just what happens in Europe, when you have limitation of liability.

You don't have it as a label on the first proceeding as you often do here, it comes afterwards.

The first thing you do, everyone's who's everybody else, just as we usually do here.

And after there are suits, and cross-claims, and counterclaims, the Court decides the issue of liability and determines under their rules just who was liable and to what extent.

After that is completed, the ship owner looks at the Bill that's presented to him and then decide whether or not he's going to limit, which is a sensible thing to do.

I think in a sense, we have the cart before the horse here very often.

But we overcome that by frequently using limitation of liability as a defense like under the Jahncke and that case stands for the proposition that you can use it either way and I submit that there isn't a slightest doubt that British Transport can limit now if it wants to, because for the first time there are claims against it.

There weren't before.

Now, the difficultly here originally arose because of the fact that there was a Government involved and a British vessel which our Government thought was likewise a British Government ship.

So they thought it came under the Knock-for-Knock Agreement.

Consequently, there were some confusion and the thing didn't proceed exactly as an ordinary case of this kind would proceed.

Ordinarily, they would have waited until the vessel got where she was going, the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs and then British Transport's counsel whose office was there would've label it.

The Government would've come back and answered limited, and claimed against the British for their damages.

We would've come in.

And I only represent the people that were injured, killed and, lost there baggage.

Mr. Doub will speak for the Government's aspect of the case.

So we would've then come in and filed our claims.

And under Rule 43, we'd file them against anybody.

Now, we don't have any admiralty, the equivalent of Rule 13 (g) of the civil rules.

So, for one to have a better, we used Rule 56 or sometimes 54 and have for 75 years.

It goes back, it used to be Rule 59.

At first, as the petitioner pointed out, yes, it was designed for collision.

But it was quickly spread to cargo and then to all sorts of things.

Now, if we had the European and British system of determining liability before we determine whether or not we were going to limit, we wouldn't require the equivalent of Rule 56 or -- or its -- its liberal use.