The T.J. Hooper – Case Brief

The T.J. Hooper, 60 F2d 737 (2d Cir. 1932).

Case Summary

Facts: The plaintiffs were shipping two barges full of cargo when the ships encountered a storm. The barges sank and the cargo was lost. The defendants owned the two tugboats that accompanied the barges.

The plaintiffs sued the defendants, claiming that the tugs were not seaworthy because they were not equipped with effective radio sets capable of receiving warning of the storm. At the time, a statute had been enacted that required passenger steamers to carry such radios.

The defendants asserted that they did not have a duty, by statute or otherwise, to carry radio sets. They asserted that the radio sets were new technology and that the statute that required passenger steamers to carry radios did not include tugs. The trial court entered judgment in favor of P and D appealed.

Issue: If a new technology has been shown to be so extensive as to be a nearly universal practice or custom, but not required by statute, is a party not using the technology liable for damage that the new technology could have prevented?

Holding and Rule: Yes. The court held that unless the tugs were under a duty to be equipped with radios, a suit for negligence must fail. However, the standard of seaworthiness is not dependent on statutory enactment or unchanging standards. The standard changes with advancing knowledge, experience, and the changed appliances of navigation. The use of the radio was shown to be so extensive as to amount almost to a universal practice in the navigation of coast wise tugs along the coast. The court held that there was a duty on the part of the tug owner to supply effective receiving sets.

Disposition: Affirmed.

Notes: Custom is not based merely on old standards. It also must be based on adapting to new technology. The duty of care is a relative concept that changes.

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