Manhattan by Sail, Inc., as Owners, Operators, and Agents of the Excursion sailing vessel, Shearwater Classic Schooner For Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability, Shearwater Holdings, LTD., as Owners, Operators, and Agents of the Excursion sailing vessel, Shearwater Classic Schooner For Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability, Petitioners-Appellees,
Charis Tagle, Respondent-Appellant.
Argued: October 24, 2016
claiming negligence as the cause of her injury during an
excursion on a sailing vessel when a crewman lost hold of a
weighted halyard which then swung free, striking
passenger's head, appeals from the judgment of the United
States District Court for the Southern District of New York
(Valerie Caproni, J.) exonerating the vessel owner from
liability after nonjury trial. The district court concluded
that the passenger failed to adduce evidence that would
sustain application of res ipsa loquitur to show negligence
because she failed to show that the occurrence was of the
sort that could occur only because of negligence.
VACATED and REMANDED.
R. Hornig (Guerric S.D.L. Russell, on the brief), Nicoletti
Hornig & Sweeney, New York, NY, for Petitioners-
Jonathan R. Ratchik, Kramer & Dunleavy, L.L.P., New York,
NY, for Respondent-Appellant.
Before: LEVAL, SACK, and RAGGI, Circuit Judges.
Tagle, who was injured while a passenger on the sailing
vessel Shearwater Classic Schooner (the
"Shearwater"), appeals from the judgment of the
United States District Court for the Southern District of New
York (Valerie Caproni, J.) entered after a nonjury
trial, which exonerated the vessel owners, Manhattan by Sail,
Inc. and Shearwater Holdings, Ltd., from liability for the
injury. Tagle was injured when a deckhand unclipped a
weighted halyard from the forestaysail at the bow of the
vessel and lost hold of it, so that it swung free and struck
her in the head. The shipowners offered no evidence
explaining why he lost hold of it. The district court ruled
that the passenger failed to show negligence or entitlement
to application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur because a
seaman's loss of control of a line can occur
without negligence. This was error. The passenger made a
showing of negligence, which the shipowners failed to rebut.
The judgment is vacated, and the matter remanded with
directions to enter a finding of negligence.
The Accident at Issue
April 30, 2011, Charis Tagle purchased passage aboard the
Shearwater, a sightseeing vessel which takes passengers on
excursions in New York Harbor. Tagle boarded the ship, and a
crewmember directed her to sit on a wooden hatch next to the
forestaysail mast. The forestaysail mast is positioned
between the main mast (near the center of the ship) and the
Shearwater cast off under engine power into the lower Hudson
River. David Zimmerman, the captain, ordered the crew to
raise the forestaysail. The forestaysail is raised by means
of a halyard, which runs from the base of the forestaysail
mast vertically up the mast to a wooden block (or pulley)
near the top of the mast, through the block, and from there
forward to the bow, where it is attached to a grommet at the
top corner of the triangular forestaysail by means of a
one-pound stainless steel clip, called a pelican clip. The
sail is raised by pulling downward on the end of the halyard
at the bottom of the mast, so that the other end of the
halyard (the end attached to the sail at the bow) pulls the
top of the sail upward toward the pulley near the top of the
mast. When the pelican clip at the forward end of the halyard
is clipped to the sail, the forward part of the halyard is
immobilized. On the other hand, if the clip is detached from
the sail when the halyard is extended forward from the mast
toward the bow, the halyard will be pulled by gravity toward
the base of the mast from which it hangs and, unless held
secure, will swing as a pendulum.
Zimmerman ordered that the forestaysail be raised,
Christopher Biggins, a deckhand, detached the halyard from
the sail. In his testimony at trial, Biggins could not
remember why he unclipped the halyard. Tugged by
gravitational force toward the mast, the freed halyard pulled
loose from Biggins's grip and swung back towards the mast
where Tagle was seated. The clip at the end of the halyard
struck Tagle and cut her forehead. Although Biggins knew
immediately after losing control of the halyard that it had
struck and injured a passenger, he testified at trial that he
could not recall why he lost control of it. The captain
testified that Biggins reported at the time that "while
he was hooking up the halyard to the forestaysail, it slipped
out of his hands and swung like a pendulum . . . ."
The Instant Action
filed suit in New York state court, alleging that the
negligence of the crew caused her injury. The owners of the
Shearwater then filed this petition in admiralty seeking
exoneration from liability, pursuant to the Limitation of
Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq.
Tagle's state court lawsuit was stayed pending resolution
of the district court's action. The ...