382. River Wear Commissioners v Adamson & others (the “Natalian”) (1876) 1 Q.B.D. 546; 2 App Cas 743

Interpretation – Statute read down so as not to disturb common law liability regime in respect of casus fortuitus.

 The facts

A storm drove the vessel against a pier.  The pier was damaged without negligence on the part of the master or crew.

 Section 74 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Act 1847 (10 Vict c.27) read:

 “the owner of every vessel, or float of timber, shall be answerable to the undertakers for any damage done by such vessel or float of timber, or by any person employed about the same, to the harbour, dock, or pier, or the quays or works connected therewith; and the master or person having the charge of such vessel or float of timber, through whose wilful act or negligence any such damage is done, shall also be liable to make good the same; and the undertakers may detain any such vessel, or float of timber, until sufficient security has been given for the amount of damage done by the same.”

 There was a proviso exempting the owner from liability in cases where the vessel was in charge of a licensed pilot whom the owner was “bound by law to employ and put his vessel in charge of”:—


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