Circuit Judge Pierre N. Leval


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While a passenger on the sailing vessel Shearwater Classic Schooner (Shearwater), Tagle was hurt when a deckhand lost hold of an unclipped a weighted halyard from the forestaysail at the vessel’s bow, so that it swung free and struck Tagle’s head. After bench trial district court exonerated the Shearwater’s owners from liability, ruling that Tagle failed to show negligence or entitlement to application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor because a seaman can lose control of a line absent negligence. Finding district court misapplied the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, Second Circuit vacated, and remanded, judgment instructing district court to enter a finding of negligence as the cause of Tagle’s injury. Res ipsa loquitor is not limited to accidents that could occur solely to negligence. The sufficiency of Tagle’s evidence that a halyard does not ordinarily slip from a seaman’s grasp absent negligence was established by the Supreme Court’s 1948 decision in Johnson v. U.S. A deckhand who carefully exercises the skills required for the seaman’s job will not ordinarily lose hold of an extended weighted halyard. Nothing in the record suggested that the seaman’s error was caused by some extraordinary force or turbulence to let the halyard slip form his hands.