The opinion of the court was delivered by: BYERS
In this proceeding, the petitioners seek exemption from or limitation of liability for the result of an explosion which occurred on a motor-boat built and owned by them, on May 24, 1930.
The motor-boat was known as Hull No. 304, and had been exhibited at the motor-boat show of 1930 in the City of New York, and thereafter had been demonstrated for the purpose of sale, in and around the waters of New York Harbor adjacent to the shipyard of the petitioners on Coney Island creek at the foot of Cropsey avenue, Brooklyn, within this district.
On May 6, 1930, the boat was put in condition to proceed under its own power to Lake Cayuga. Two employees of the petitioners took it up the Hudson to Albany, where delivery was made to the claimant Brown, who was a sales agent of the petitioners, having his headquarters in Syracuse. Mr. Brown had conceived the idea of having it on exhibition on Lake Cayuga in connection with the spring regatta of Cornell University.
Mr. Brown took this particular boat and another one also built by the petitioners in charge, and proceeded to Brewerton, where demonstrations were conducted, and on May 20th departure was had for Ithaca, which was reached on May 22nd. On that and the following night, Brown and his wife and two other guests slept on board, and on Saturday morning, the 24th, Brown took both craft to the Ithaca inlet at the foot of the Buffalo street bridge, to take on gas for the purpose of the day's activities.
This boat was about 40 feet over-all, but the beam and draft do not appear in the record. She was a twin screw motor gasoline launch, having cabins fore and aft, which were separate by a bridge deck a little aft of amidships. The level of the cabins was a few feet lower than that of the bridge deck space, which contained the motors under its flooring. The steering wheel was in this space, on the forward port side, and adjacent was the instrument panel.
As stated, the motive power was supplied by twin motors connected with twin screws.
The forward and after cabins were roofed in the customary manner, as was the bridge deck space.
The gasoline tanks were on the port and starboard sides, partly in the space occupied by the motors, and the port gas tank projected into the after cabin space at the base of the closet on that side of the boat, so that the floor of the latter was a raised platform.
When gasoline was taken on the morning of May 24th, the port tank was filled from a hose connected to a tank wagon on the shore.
The method of filling the off-shore or starboard tank is not clearly shown. Brown testified on the trial that this was also done by hose, an extra section having been coupled to the hose as used for filing the port tank, which permitted the nozzle to be placed directly in contact with the filler pipe of the starboard tank. He had previously stated that this latter operation was accomplished through the use of five-gallon cans which were filled from the hose leading to the tank wagon, and then emptied by him into the starboard filler pipe through a funnel provided for that purpose.
It is unnecessary to make a finding on that subject but it is referred to because there is a possibility that the operation was conducted in the latter manner, whereby fumes may have gathered.
The weather conditions were unfavorable at the time; that is to say, it had been raining and it was foggy, and the air was heavy. There is a conflict of testimony as to whether any curtains were hanging from the open sides of the bridge deck at the time in question.
After the filling had been completed, one of the engines was started by Brown, and then he pressed the button for the other, and immediately an explosion followed, which blew out the stern of the motor-boat and completely wrecked the entire after cabin, and did such injury to the occupants that actions to recover damages in a substantial amount ...