News from 1875: An Atlantic Damage Award

Mark Baber

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The New-York Times, 12 July 1875

RESPONSIBILITY OF STEAM-SHIP COMPANIES FOR LOSS OF LIFE
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In the Court of Queens Bench, Guildhall, before Mr. Justice Lush and a jury, the case of Kruger versus The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company was heard on June 30. This case arose out of the loss of the steamer Atlantic, in April, 1873, off the coast of Nova Scotia, on her voyage from Liverpool to New-York. The Captain rashly approached too near the shore without taking soundings, and this caused the terrible catastrophe; the vessel struck on the rocks and was lost. Out of the 900 persons on board 600 were drowned in a very few minutes. Among those on board was one Kruger, by descent a German, though born in this country, who was engaged in the timber trade in America, and was proceeding to New. York for the purpose of setting up an agency in Canada. He was twenty-eight years of age, was married, and left a widow and three young children, and his widow, on behalf of herself and her family, sued the company under Lord Campbell's act to recover compensation for the loss they had sustained. The company, besides denying the negligence alleged, pleaded that the accident happened on the high seas out of the jurisdiction of the courts of common law, and also that it happened at Nova Scotia, in the Dominion of Canada, and that, according to the law of that country, the action could not be maintained.

Mr. Fitzjame Stephens, Q. C., and Mr. A. L. Smith were for the plaintiff; Mr. Butt, Q. C., Mr. Bruce, and Mr. Myburgh were for the company.

On the case being opened Mr. Butt, on the part of the company, said they had satisfied themselves that the loss of the vessel had arisen through the negligence of the Captain, and therefore they would not dispute their liability, and would yield to a verdict, so that the question became one of damages. But they were prepared with evidence to show that the vessel had been well found in all respects.

Mr. Stephens said he was prepared with evidence on the other side to show the contrary, and he had no doubt his learned friend had taken a wise, as it certainly was a fair and proper, course for his clients. He then proceeded to state the case for the plaintiff, saying the loss of the vessel had arisen through the rashness of the Captain in going near the shore without taking soundings, but observing that the Captain, if a rash was a brave man and had, when the disaster occurred, shown the greatest bravery and courage, risking his own life to save the lives of others. He then proceeded to state the position and prospects of the deceased with reference to pecuniary income, stating that he was making an income of £2,000 a year, and saved £1,000 a year; and he pointed out that the action was for the benefit of the widow and her three children to compensate them for the loss they had sustained.

The widow and other witnesses were called in support of the statement, and evidence had also been taken under a commission in America.

In the result the jury gave a verdict for the plaintiff for £5,000---£2,000 for the widow, and £1,000 for each of the three children.

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