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MATSUSHITA ELEC. CORP. OF AMERICA v. S. S. AEGIS S

April 30, 1976

MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC CORPORATION OF AMERICA, a corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
S. S. AEGIS SPIRIT, her engines, etc., et al., Defendants. The SUMITOMO MARINE & FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, v. S. S. AEGIS SPIRIT, her engines, tackle, furniture, apparel, and equipment, etc., and Estrella Dischosa Navigation, S. A., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BEEKS

 FACTS

 These consolidated cases mark the latest skirmish in the age old war between shippers and carriers over their respective rights and liabilities. The case instituted by Matsushita Electric Corporation ("Matsushita") against the S.S. AEGIS SPIRIT ("Vessel"), Tokai Shipping Company ("Tokai") and Estrella Dischosa Navigation ("Estrella") -- the latter defendants being respectively the time charterer and owner of Vessel -- concerns damage to cargo transported in containers owned by Tokai. *fn1" The companion case instituted by Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance Company, Ltd. ("Sumitomo"), as subrogee, *fn2" against Vessel and Estrella concerns damage to the containers. The respective liabilities of the defendants in both causes have been heretofore established by interlocutory judgment rendered by this Court on July 18, 1974, which left for future decision only the measure of damages with attendant issues of fact and law. In Matsushita a further bifurcation of the damage question has been effected whereby the Court will limit its consideration to the difficult legal question herein posed -- more specifically, the interpretation and rationalization of the liability limiting provisions of the Carriage of Goods By Sea Act *fn3" ("COGSA") as applied to cargo shipped in metal containers supplied by the carrier.

 Matsushita was the consignee of an assorted shipment of color televisions, stereophonic equipment and other electrical appliances which were shipped in containers on board the Vessel from Japan to the United States by Matsushita's Japanese counterpart corporation, Matsushita Electric Trading Company of Japan ("Matsushita/Japan"). *fn4" This shipment arrived at Tacoma, Washington, on or about May 2, 1973, with the contents of eleven (11) containers in a much deteriorated condition, apparently due to concussive forces and the entry of sea water into the containers during the voyage. The containers themselves also sustained material damage en route. Matsushita's claim against Tokai and Estrella with respect to its consigned goods is clearly embraced by COGSA, but the applicability of COGSA to Sumitomo's consolidated claim for container damage is an issue for determination.

 Before turning to the legal questions presented, their factual context must first be fully brought to light. The contract for carriage was negotiated in Japan between representatives of Tokai and Matsushita/Japan. Estrella did not participate in these negotiations, nor did the master or any other Estrella representative endorse the bills of lading. As a product of these negotiations Tokai issued to Matsushita/Japan, in addition to its bills of lading, a so-called "letter of guaranty" *fn5" which stated:

 Shipment of Electrical goods in Containers

 
We hereby declared and agreed that your shipment of electrical goods in containers whenever accepted and transported by us, we will undertake our liability to the extent of $500 per package contained in containers in case of loss or damage to goods but subject to the production of the relevant invoice and terms and conditions of bill of lading issued by us.
 
It would be further noted that other terms and conditions of bill of lading remain inaltered. [sic.]

 The terms and descriptions on the face of each of the bills of lading issued by Tokai in connection with the damaged cargo can best be considered by reproducing relevant portions of one of them *fn6" which is fairly representative of all. *fn7" The physical orientation of the terms below has, however, been altered for convenience in tabulation. Container No. and Seal No.: SSIU211586-7 SSIU201108 Marks and Nos.: Tokai 00653 Tokai 06686 No. of Containers or Pkgs.: 2 containers

19760430

© 1992-2004 VersusLaw ...

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