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Adams and Reese Partners Matt Guy and Chris Kane are published in the April 2024 issue of The Transportation Lawyer – a joint publication of the Transportation Lawyers Association and Canadian Transport Lawyers Association.

Guy and Kane authored “Wharf and Peace: A Review of Wharfinger Liability.” Guy is the Adams and Reese Maritime Team Leader and New Orleans office Partner in Charge. Kane is the Adams and Reese Global Trade, Transportation and Logistics Team Leader.

Under maritime law, “a wharfinger is required to exercise due diligence in maintaining its berths in a safe manner and in removing any dangerous obstruction therein or warning any vessel using said facilities of its existence.” So, the wharfinger has an obligation to use due diligence to maintain the safety of the berth but provides no guarantees.

Collisions (where two moving vessels impact one another) and allisions (where a moving vessel strikes a stationary object) are frequently the subject of litigation where the central inquiry will be the apportionment of fault between the parties. Certain legal presumptions may be applicable to that analysis.

The rule of the SS Oregon creates a presumption of fault when a moving vessel, under her own power, allides with a stationary object and the rule of the Louisiana creates the same presumption for a vessel that drifts into an allision with a stationary object.

But what about where the damage is alleged to have been caused not by fault on the part of the vessel (in whole or part) but because of the condition of the wharf, dock, or port into which the vessel was sailing? What are the obligations of the wharfinger or port operator towards vessels that might be sailing in its waters or docking at its premises? Do parties chartering vessels warrant that they will only docket a safe berth?

This article considers those questions and how courts in the United States examine alleged liability in those circumstances. Research and contributions to the article were made by Adams and Reese law clerk Michelle Paré, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.