Davidson S.S. Co. v. United States

Davidson S.S. Co. v. United States, 205 U.S. 187, 27 S.Ct. 480, 51 L.Ed. 764 (1907), was a collision case tried to a jury. The defendant steamship company was found liable for damages to a recently extended government pier in Lake Superior, caused when its ship collided with the pier. The Court viewed the question before it as "whether there was testimony from which the jury might rightfully find the defendant guilty of negligence." Id. at 193, 27 S.Ct. at 482, 51 L.Ed. at 767. The pilot had been on the lake for many years, but he had not been in the particular harbor for over a year. He knew that harbor improvements were being made on the lake and that information circulars were available. The Court said: "There is an obligation on all persons to take the care which, under ordinary circumstances of the case, a reasonable and prudent man would take, and the omission of that care constitutes negligence." Id., 27 S.Ct. at 483. Following this statement of obligation was the passage from Atlee describing the degree of knowledge required of a river pilot. The Court concluded: "His very want of knowledge, when he had the means of ascertaining the facts, could properly be regarded as negligence. Clearly, it could not be held as matter of law not to be so." Id. at 194, 27 S.Ct. at 483, 51 L.Ed. at 767. Negligence thus consisted of the pilot's failure to inform himself when information was available about conditions regarding which an experienced pilot would have reason to desire information.