A tanker owned by Reliable Transfer Co. (Reliable) (plaintiff) became stranded on a sandbar. Reliable sued the United States (defendant) on the ground that the Coast Guard had negligently failed to maintain a flashing light that would have enabled the tanker’s captain to avoid the sandbar. A federal district court found Reliable to be 75 percent at fault and the Coast Guard to be 25 percent at fault. The court noted that the tanker’s captain had multiple devices for navigating past the sandbar but used none of them. On the basis of the divided-damages rule in admiralty law, however, the court ruled that each party was responsible for half of the damages to the tanker. The United States petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.