The Fourth Circuit’s unanimous published opinion in F.C. Wheat Maritime Corp. v. United States, released today, provides insight into the valuation of yachts and the difference between “allision” and “collision.” In the opinion, the court of appeals affirms an award of lower damages than sought by the owner of a docked yacht that was smashed up by an Army Corps of Engineers vessel whose captain fell asleep at the helm. Judge Duncan wrote the opinion, which was joined in by Judge Shedd and Judge Osteen (MDNC, sitting by designation).
The first footnote of the opinion reads as follows:
“An allision is a collision between a moving vessel and a stationary object.” Evergreen Int’l., S.A. v. Norfolk Dredging Co., 531 F.3d 302, 304 n.1 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty & Maritime Law § 5-2 n.1 (4th ed. 2004)). See also Black’s Law Dictionary 88 (9th ed. 2009) (defining an allision as [t]he contact of a vessel with a stationary object such as an anchored vessel or a pier”). The Marquessa was stationary at the time of the incident in this case.
Black’s explains, however, that “collision” is often used where “allision” was once the preferred term. Black’s Law Dictionary at 88. And as the Fifth Circuit has noted, “[i]n modern practice, courts generally use the term ‘collision’ as opposed to ‘allision’ when describing contact between vessels that gives rise to a suit.” Apache Corp. v. Global Santa Fe Drilling Co., No. 10-30795, 2011 WL 2747575, at *1 n.1 (5th Cir. Jul. 13, 2011)(unpublished). Indeed, the district court here used the term collision.
We adhere to the more precise usage, and are particularly mindful that admiralty law draws a distinction (albeit not one relevant to this appeal) between allisions and collisions. See Bessemer & Lake Erie R.R. Co. v. Seaway Marine Transp., 596 F.3d 357, 362 (6th Cir. 2010) (noting that admiralty law establishes a rebuttable presumption that in an allision, the moving object is at fault).