The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Apr. 16, 1890

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Suit For the Loss of a Sailor's Life

Chicago, April 15. - [Special.] - Judge McConnell this morning began the hearing of a queer suit for the loss of a sailor's life, in which some naval law points were for the first time raised. The case was that of the administrator of the estate of Ole P. Anderson, sailor, against Capt. O. J. Saunders, owner and master of the schooner I. M. Forrest. The suit is for $5,000 for the loss of Anderson's life on May 27, 1886. At that time Anderson was mate of the above name schooner, which was then off Waukegan on its way to Chicago. Anderson was called up in the night to assist in repairing some broken spars and while thus engaged was knocked overboard by a boom. The sea was calm and the sailors rushed to the yawl to cast it off and rescue Anderson. They had partially loosed it from its fastenings and were working like Trojans, when Capt. Saunders came up and told the sailors to desist. "We can't save him," the sailors allege Saunders said. "Don't let that boat down." The sailors protested against the captain's stern order and said they could rescue Anderson, but the captain again put his foot down and declared that no attempt at rescue should be made. In the sight of the captain and sailors poor Anderson threw up his arms and went to the bottom. The claim for the theory that Anderson, being a member of the crew, was entitled to the use of the boat in any emergency, and that the boat was for the purpose of any person belonging to the ship. It was the captain's duty to save Anderson and neglecting to do so he willfully allowed Anderson's life to be lost and was therefore responsible for it. The attorney for the administrator, John G. Neith, says that a captain's responsibility for the life of any of his sailors has never before been tested in court.

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I find it interesting that this is the very first suit of this type, at the relatively late date of 1890. The fact that sailors were beginning to have "rights" was probably a result of the general labor movement of the time. I believe that nowadays we would call this a "wrongful death" suit.
Date of Original:
Apr. 16, 1890
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Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Apr. 16, 1890