What Is an Allision?

In a collision, two moving objects strike each other; for example, two passing ships. An allision, however, involves an accident where only one of the objects is moving. For instance, this maritime term can refer to an accident where a moving boat runs into a stationary bridge fender.

Allisions can occur for various reasons. Navigational errors, such as misjudgment of distance or misinterpretation of navigational aids, can lead a vessel astray. Mechanical failures, whether from malfunctioning engines or steering mechanisms, can render a ship uncontrollable. Environmental factors, including strong currents, high winds, or diminished visibility, can also push a vessel off course. 

The consequences of an allision can be vast and varied. Structural damage is common, as the force of impact can damage both the vessel and the stationary object, leading to potential repair costs and downtime. Beyond the immediate physical damage, there can be environmental consequences, especially if the allision results in an oil spill or the release of other hazardous materials into the water. This not only affects the marine ecosystem but can also result in costly clean-up efforts. There's also the risk to human life; injuries or fatalities can occur, especially if the allision is severe. 

When it comes to liability and accountability after an allision, the legal ramifications can be significant. The owner or operator of the vessel involved might find themselves on the receiving end of various legal claims. These could include claims for property damage, environmental cleanup costs, and personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits from those injured or killed during the incident. The financial implications of these claims can be staggering. Moreover, there may be regulatory fines or sanctions imposed by maritime authorities.

This entire scenario underscores the paramount importance of taking preventative measures. Comprehensive crew training, routine equipment maintenance, adherence to safety protocols, and employing modern navigation tools are all vital in preventing allisions and ensuring safe operations at sea. It’s essential for the well-being of all maritime workers.

The Oregon Rule: Liability for Allisions

The difference between an allision or a collision matters when trying to prove who is a fault for an accident. In maritime law, there’s something known as the Oregon Rule that defines who is at fault for an allision. The Oregon Rule states that “presumption derives from the common-sense observation that moving vessels do not usually collide with stationary objects unless the [moving] vessel is mishandled in some way."

In other words, if a vessel hits a stationary object, it’s considered at fault for the allision unless the operator can prove otherwise. For example, in the case of a ship striking a bridge, it could be argued that the fender is there to protect vessels and not the bridge. If instead, the vessel owner or operator could prove that the bridge fender was blocking the waterway or was incorrectly installed, the stationary object could be shown to be at fault for the allision.

Moving vessels must prove one of the following to shift fault for colliding with a non-moving object:

  • It was operating under reasonable care
  • The stationary object was at fault for the incident
  • The accident with the object was unavoidable

For example, let’s look at a situation in which a vessel hits a bridge. Under the Oregon Rule, that vessel is at fault for alliding with the bridge. However, owners of that vessel might discover that the bridge was not properly maintained or marked to allow for the safe passage of vessels beneath it. If this is true, the moving vessel needs to provide evidence. Otherwise, it’s assumed that the moving vessel is at fault for the accident.

The Oregon Rule can be important for injured offshore workers who need to prove who is at fault for an accident so they can seek compensation for injuries and other losses associated with it. In some instances, the owners of the vessel might not be at fault for a collision with a stationary object. It is also possible for liability to be shared. Using the Oregon Rule can help injured workers hold the right parties liable for their accidents.

The Pennsylvania Rule

In the case of the Pennsylvania, two commercial ships (a sailing vessel and a steamer) collided off of the New Jersey coast during dense fog. The accident caused the sailing vessel to sink and for 6 of the 10 crew members to drown. The owner of the sailing vessel subsequently sued the owner of the steamer for damages.

Both the United States District Court of New York and the Second Circuit found the steamer at fault for the accident due to its excessive speed of travel. However, the Supreme Court also found the sailing vessel partially at fault for violating a statutory rule. Per the court, the sailing vessel was required to blow a foghorn; however, the vessel only rang its bell—despite the heavy fog.

According to the conclusion of the court:

"But when, as in this case, a ship at the time of a collision is in actual violation of a statutory rule intended to prevent collisions, it is no more than a reasonable presumption that the fault, if not the sole cause, was at least a contributory cause of the disaster. In such a case the burden rests upon the ship of showing not merely that her fault might not have been one of the causes, or that it probably was not, but that it could not have been. Such a rule is necessary to enforce obedience to the mandate of the statute."

Therefore, the Pennsylvania Rule was born. This rule deals directly with accidents that occur because one party violated a statutory rule. In these cases, the party in violation needs to not only prove their wrongdoing did not cause the accident, but that it could not have even contributed to the cause of the accident.

Although the Pennsylvania Rule was created in response to a collision, it has since been expanded to apply to other maritime incidents, including groundings and allisions. If an allision occurs and it is found that one of the involved parties violated a statutory rule, they could be held accountable for any resulting damages.

Mike Hooks Dredging v. Marquette Transportation Gulf-Inland, LLC

In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard the case of an allision in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), where a passing vessel hit a moored dredge. While the Oregon Rule would typically apply in this case, it was found that the company operating the dredge was in violation of Inland Navigation Rule 9 for mooring in a narrow channel, which meant the Pennsylvania Rule applied. While the owner of the dredge argued that the Pennsylvania Rule did not apply because the dredge was not obstructing navigation in the waterway, the Fifth Circuit ultimately rejected that argument.

If you or someone you love was harmed in an allision or any type of offshore incident, call (888) 346-5024 for a free consultation.

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