Exxon Co., U. S. A. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U.S. 830, 5 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

was unable to make effective use of a navigational chart to check for hazards. The courts found that this failure to plot fixes of the ship's position was grossly and extraordinarily negligent. App. to Pet. for Cert. 61; 54 F. 3d, at 578. The District Court found that "Captain Coyne's decisions were made calmly, deliberately and without the pressure of an imminent peril." App. to Pet. for Cert. 60. His failure to plot fixes after 1830 "was entirely independent of the fact of breakout; he voluntarily decided not to plot fixes in a situation where he was able to plot fixes." Id., at 64.

At 1956, Captain Coyne initiated a final turn toward the shore. Because he had not plotted the ship's position, Captain Coyne was unaware of its position until he ordered another crew member to plot the fix at 2004. Upon seeing the fix on the chart, the captain apparently realized that the ship was headed for a reef. Captain Coyne's ensuing efforts to avoid the reef came too late, and moments later the ship ran aground, resulting in its constructive total loss. The District Court found that Captain Coyne's decision to make this final turn "was not foreseeable." Id., at 65.

Exxon filed a complaint in admiralty against the HIRI respondents and respondent Sofec for, inter alia, the loss of its ship and cargo. The complaint contained claims for breach of warranty, strict products liability, and negligence. HIRI filed a complaint against several third-party respondents, who had manufactured and supplied the chafe chain that held the tanker to the SPM.

Before trial, respondents suggested that Captain Coyne's conduct was the superseding and sole proximate cause of the loss of the ship, and they moved to bifurcate the trial. Respondents and the third-party respondents disputed among themselves the cause of the breakout, and they apparently sought bifurcation of the trial to avoid lengthy proceedings to resolve those factual disputes prior to a determination whether Captain Coyne's conduct was the superseding cause

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