The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER
On May 17, 1972, the unpowered barge BECRAFT, which was being towed by the tug DIANA L. MORAN and assisted by the tug DEVON, struck the Tomlinson Bridge on the Quinnipiac River near New Haven, Connecticut, causing damage to the barge and the bridge. A trial was held in these consolidated actions to determine the respective liabilities of the parties involved in the accident.
The tug MORAN proceeded on the day of the accident to the Atlantic Cement Company dock on the Mill River at New Haven to take the barge BECRAFT in tow for a voyage to Ravenna, New York. The BECRAFT was being towed stern first and the MORAN was made fast to the BECRAFT's stern. During the trip, the captain of the MORAN, George Calain, Jr., was positioned aboard the BECRAFT to act as pilot in charge of the operation and was in radio communication with the crews of the MORAN and the DEVON, which was positioned to the rear of the barge to act as a rudder in assisting the flotilla.
The flotilla headed down the Mill River toward the junction of the Mill and Quinnipiac Rivers where it was necessary to turn approximately 90 degrees to the right into the Quinnipiac River so that the ships could pass through the Tomlinson Bridge.
The Tomlinson Bridge is of bascule type construction, with leaves that elevate to allow ships to pass. The BECRAFT entered the draw favoring the left side to insure that a kingpost on the starboard side of the barge would clear the overhanging bridge leaf on the right side of the draw. However, the barge slid too far to port and the port side of the barge rubbed the granite abutment of the bridge, damaging both the bridge and the barge. After this collision, the BECRAFT was deflected off the abutment and shortly thereafter a chock on the barge snagged the girder of one of the raised bascule leaves, resulting in substantial damage to the leaf.
Contentions of the Parties
The Tug Helen B. Moran, Inc., as owner, and Moran Towing and Transportation Co., Inc., as bareboat charterer of the MORAN, and the Tug Devon, Inc., as owner of the DEVON, seek exoneration from or limitation of liability for the damages sustained by the State of Connecticut, as owner and operator of the Tomlinson Bridge. Connecticut filed claims in and answers to both proceedings.
The tug MORAN asserts that:
(1) The State of Connecticut is solely responsible for the damage caused by the barge's collision with the abutment because the fender system covering the abutment was missing and unrepaired.
(2) The State of Connecticut is solely liable for the damages caused when the chock snagged the girder of the Tomlinson Bridge because the bridge unlawfully deviates from its construction plans as approved by the Secretary of the Army and presents an illegal obstruction to navigation.
(3) The faults in the bridge structure proximately caused the accidents.
(4) The DEVON partially caused the second collision, between the barge's chock and the girder of the bridge, by reversing its engines wrongfully and without orders from the pilot of the MORAN. This reversal of engines, which is claimed to have occurred immediately after the barge hit the bridge abutment, is said to have caused the barge to swing to the left under the leaf of the bridge, and to hit the bridge's leaf.
The State of Connecticut contends:
(1) The Moran Towing & Transportation Co., Inc., as employer and bareboat charterer of the tug MORAN, is liable for the damage to the bridge because (a) the flotilla was proceeding at an excessive rate of speed; and (b) the captain of the MORAN negligently handled the flotilla's passage through the bridge.
(2) The tug DEVON is liable for failing to warn the MORAN pilot that the flotilla was improperly aligned for the passage.
(3) The state should not be held liable for any negligence on its part either in failing to maintain the fender system in proper condition or in the construction of the bridge because such negligence, if any, was passive and not the proximate cause of the accidents.
The DEVON denies that it was negligent in any respect.