Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Great Lakes Steamship Co v Maple Leaf Milling Co  41 TLR 21
Law of Tort – Remoteness of Damage – Property – Eggshell Skull Rule – Damages – Foreseeability
The defendants had a duty to immediately lighten the complainant’s vessel on its arrival on Lake Erie. However, they failed to do so at the time when it arrived. A few days later, the water levels fell and this caused the ship to ground on the harbour bottom. The complainant’s vessel suffered damage as a result of not being lightened and damage was more severe as the ship had grounded on a large anchor. Neither the defendants nor the complainants knew about the anchor or why it was there.
The issue in this case concerned foreseeability and whether the extent of the damage sustained by the anchor had to be foreseeable for a successful claim in damages.
The court held that the defendants had breached their contractual duty, as they had negligently failed to lighten the ship, as had been agreed prior to its arrival. The defendants were also liable for all of the damage sustained to the ship as a result of the anchor. Damage resulting from the vessel being grounded on the harbour bottom was described as foreseeable, as this was likely to result when the ship was not lightened. This case was an example of the eggshell skull rule being applied to external circumstances; it did not matter that they did not know about the presence of the anchor. As Lord Carson stated, ‘the damage incurred by grounding is immaterial’ . The harm to the ship was still a foreseeable type and the extent of that damage did not matter; the defendants are liable for the resulting damages.
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