In a collision, two moving objects strike each other; for example, two ships that are passing run into one another. 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.
Per the Oregon Rule, when a moving object hits a stationary object, the moving object is presumed at fault. The moving vessel thus has the burden of proving an alternate theory of causation to show the stationary object was actually at fault. 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.
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 crewmembers 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 speeds 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 their 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.
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 caused the rule of The Pennsylvania to be triggered. 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 have questions about allisions and how maritime law applies, contact us at (888) 346-5024!
Arnold & Itkin represented nearly a third of the crewmembers injured in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Because maritime law is so complex and so complicated, it is crucial that you work with an attorney who has an in-depth understanding of how it works and who has proven themselves in similar cases before.