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Petitions of the Kinsman Transit Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
338 F.2d 708 (1964)


On January 21, 1959, thaw and rain followed freezing weather, causing the Buffalo River to swell and chunks of ice to be propelled downstream. During the winter, numerous vessels were permanently moored in the river. They did not have power and were minimally manned. The MacGilvray Shiras (Shiras), owned by the Kinsman Transit Co. (Kinsman) (defendant), was moored at a dock operated by Continental Grain Company (Continental) (defendant), about three miles upstream from the Michigan Avenue Bridge (Bridge) in the City of Buffalo (City) (defendant). The Shiras was situated so as to allow ice and debris to amass between her stem and the riverbank. None of her anchors were placed. Around 10 p.m., the accumulation of ice and the pressure of the current caused her mooring lines to fail. An improperly constructed “deadman,” to which one of the cables was attached, was uprooted from the ground. Around 10:40 p.m., the Shiras drifted into the current. Around 10:43 p.m., after being notified that the Shiras was adrift, the Coast Guard called the Bridge. Around 11:00 p.m., the Shiras ran into the Michael K. Tewksbury (Tewksbury), owned by Midland Steamship Line, Inc. (Midland) (defendant), causing the Tewksbury to become unmoored. It collided into the Druckenmiller, then continued downstream. Around 11:08 p.m., a watchman overseeing the Tewksbury called the Bridge to request that it be raised, a process that required just over two minutes to complete. At 11:17 p.m., the Tewksbury crashed into the Bridge, which was just then being raised. The collision brought down the Bridge’s south tower. The Tewksbury then grounded and the Shiras collided into it, with the vessels and Bridge wreckage effectively damming the river. Later, the Bridge’s north tower also collapsed. The various events injured two Bridge employees (plaintiffs) and caused considerable flooding. Resulting property damage extended nearly three miles upstream. Numerous injured parties (plaintiffs) sued, defendants cross-claimed, and the cases were consolidated for trial to a federal district court. The court declared Kinsman and Continental equally liable for damages to the Tewksbury and Druckenmiller. Kinsman, Continental, and the City were held jointly and severally liable for injuries resulting from the events at the Bridge. Midland was exonerated. Six appeals ensued.

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