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United States v. Lawter

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
219 F.2d 559 (1955)


Loretta Lawter, her husband Oren, and two other family members were in a 16-foot boat in Biscayne Bay off Miami, Florida, when a wave caused the boat to sink. The four passengers were cast into water approximately four-feet deep and 500 yards from shore. There were no other boats in the vicinity to render assistance. A United States Coast Guard (USCG) (defendant) helicopter, on a routine patrol of the area, noticed the individuals in the water and proceeded to rescue them. Against standard procedure, an inexperienced USCG officer lowered a cable to Loretta but failed to secure it to her person prior to lifting her to the helicopter. Loretta gripped the cable as she was being hoisted towards the helicopter. When Loretta was almost to the helicopter, she lost her grip on the cable and fell to her death. Oren Lawter (plaintiff) filed a wrongful-death action against the UCSG in federal district court. The district court found for Lawter and concluded that the USCG owed a duty to Loretta to act with reasonable care in the performance of an active rescue operation. Lawter was awarded $10,000 in damages. The USCG appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Hucheson, J.)

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