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Northern Barge, the operator of the T.J. Hooper and the Montrose tugboats, did not have reliable radios on board. The respondents sued Northern Barge under a towing contract when two barges and the cargo of coal were lost in a storm. The claim stated that it was negligent not to equip the tugboats with reliable radios. If the tugboats had radios Northern Barge would have received storm warnings and the two barges would have been put safely into breakwater. Four other tugs were on the same route and avoided the storm because of reliable radios. The respondents were successful at trial which Northern Barge appealed.


  1. Is there a custom to have the radios?
  2. If there is not, is the appellant free from negligence?


Appeal dismissed.


Hand, for the majority, immediately finds that there was no "custom" of tugs having these radios, as most companies do not use them. However, he states that any reasonable tug company should have them to prevent risks related to bad weather. Not having the radios meant that they tug company was not living up the necessary standard of care.


  • If the utility of a safety precaution outweighs the cost of the precaution, then it is negligent not to carry the safety precaution.
  • An industry’s general custom does not dictate the standard of care; the courts decide what is required of the parties.