Hurricanes and rules

Sandy visited us Monday. Our windows are salt streaked, but the power is on and we’re working away.

Hurricanes tend to give rise to case law and in poking around I found just such an appellate decision from earlier this year.

The issue that caught my eye related to the Pennsylvania Rule. Under this judge-created rule, if a vessel involved in a collision is in violation of a statutory rule designed to prevent collisions, the vessel must show that the violation could not have been the cause of the collision. It can be a big hill to climb.

So what happened was that during a hurricane, a vessel drifted down and allided with another vessel. The vessel that was struck argued that the drifting vessel was presumptively at fault under the Pennsylvania Rule because the drifting vessel didn’t have a mooring permit. The appellate court rejected this argument because it said that there was no evidence that the mooring permit requirement was intended to prevent allisions.

The take away is that not any violation will trigger the Pennsylvania Rule. It has to be the violation of a rule designed to prevent collisions.

Here’s hoping that those of you who were in Sandy’s path made it out unscathed, or, at least well enough to fight another day. In the meantime, do me a favor and tilt your beverage of choice back to the HMS Bounty this evening, will you?

Underway and making way.


About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at . His website is

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