Summary of In re Arbitration between Polemis and Furness, Ct. App. California 1921
Damages–Remoteness–Negligence–Natural and probable Consequence–Result which could not reasonably have been anticipated–
Relevant Facts: Some of the cargo the charterers loaded in the hold was a quantity of benzine and/or petrol in tins in cases. During the voyage the tins leaked, and in consequence there was a considerable quantity of petrol vapor in the hold. At one of the ports of call it became necessary for the stevedores, who were employed by and were the servants of the charterers, to shift some of the cases of benzine, and for that purpose the stevedores placed a number of heavy planks at the forward end of the hatchway, which they used as a platform for transferring the cases from the lower hold to the between deck. When the sling containing the cases of benzine was being hoisted up, owing to the negligence of the stevedores the rope by which the sling was hoisted or the sling itself came in contact with the boards, causing one of the boards to fall into the hold, and the fall was immediately followed by a rush of flames, the result being the total destruction of the ship
Legal Issue(s): Whether the damages are the proximate cause of the negligence of the charterers and servant?
Court’s Holding: Yes
Procedure: The arbitrators found that the ship was lost by fire; that the fire arose from a spark igniting the petrol vapor in the hold; that the spark was caused by the falling board coming into contact with some substance in the hold; and that the causing of the spark could not reasonably have been anticipated from the falling of the board. the arbitrators awarded that the owners were entitled to recover from the charterers the before-mentioned sum 196,165l. 1s. 11d. Sankey J. affirmed the award. The charterers appealed.
Law or Rule(s): NEG- The measure of damages is the same as in an action for breach of contract. The damages must be such as can reasonably be anticipated as the result of the negligent act. They must be the natural and probable consequence of the act.
Court Rationale: . The fire appears to me to have been directly caused by the falling of the plank. Under these circumstances I consider that it is immaterial that the causing of the spark by the falling of the plank could not have been reasonably anticipated. Given the breach of duty which constitutes the negligence, and given the damage as a direct result of that negligence, the anticipations of the person whose negligent act has produced the damage appear to me to be irrelevant. I consider that the damages claimed are not too remote. So long as the damage is in fact directly traceable to the negligent act, and not due to the operation of independent causes having no connection with the negligent act, except that they could not avoid its results. Once the act is negligent, the fact that its exact operation was not foreseen is immaterial.
Plaintiff’s Argument:[Polemis and Boyazides, the owners of the Greek steamship] The charterers were liable for the loss of the ship; that fire caused by negligence was not an excepted peril; and that the ship was in fact lost by the negligence of the stevedores, who were the charterers’ servants, in letting the sling strike the board, thereby causing a spark which set fire to the petrol vapor and destroyed the ship.
Defendant’s Argument: The charterers contended: to let a board fall into the hold of the ship could do no harm to the ship and therefore was not negligence towards the owners; and that the danger and/or damage were too remote–i.e., no reasonable man would have foreseen danger and/or damage of this kind resulting from the fall of the board.