55. Krawill Machinery Corporation and Others v Robert C. Herd and Co. Inc. [1959] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 305

Bill of lading incorporating USA COGSA – stevedores loading cargo not entitled to package limitation

The facts

Machinery was in the process of being shipped from Baltimore to Valencia under bill of lading incorporating the provisions of the USA COGSA.

In the process of loading, the stevedores negligently dropped a case containing a mechanical press.

The stevedores claimed the benefit of the package limitation contained in the bill of lading.

Findings

The US Supreme Court (Mr Justice Whittaker delivering the opinion of the court) affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals which in turn affirmed the decision of the District Court that the stevedores were not entitled to the package limitation.

The Supreme Court analysed the provisions of the USA COGSA, 1936 and found that these provisions did not operate to extend the benefit of the package limitation to agents of the carrier.

The approach of the court was similar to that of the majority in Wilson v Darling Island, holding that exemption clauses have to be narrowly interpreted.

Despite section 347 of the Restatement of the Law of Agency affording the immunities of the principal to the agent, and to which no reference was made by the court, the court cited a number of authorities in support of a different principle, namely, that an agent is liable in his own right for his wrongful acts (in the absence of contractual provisions to the contrary).

The court in similar fashion to Wilson v Darling Island refused to recognise that Elder Dempster laid down the principle contended for by the stevedores.

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