Kyle Hildreth

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deviation, insurance, maritime, blockade, Napoleonic Wars


An examination of the case Oliver v. The Maryland Insurance Company, 7 Cranch 487 (1813). In Oliver, Robert Oliver, the plaintiff, sued the Maryland Insurance Company, the defendant, in an attempt to recover on an insurance policy he had purchased for a shipment of goods aboard the snow Comet. The Comet was seized by a British ship on its return from Spain, and was condemned under the Orders in Council of 1807. The Court affirmed a lower court judgment that Oliver was not entitled to recover, because the Comet had engaged in an unreasonable delay and deviation on its return voyage that voided the insurance contract. Livingston and Marshall both filed opinions; Livingston claiming that the Comet’s delay in Barcelona for 4 months constituted the allotted time for a reasonable delay, and the further deviation to the nearby port of Salou was therefore unreasonable, even though it was the usage and custom of trade at Barcelona. Chief Justice Marshall filed a concurring opinion, stating his opinion that the jury should have determined whether the Comet’s delay was caused by a reasonable apprehension of fear due to “Algerine” privateers in the area; and if the jury found this reasonable apprehension existed, he would have held the deviation excused. An examination of the principle of deviation law as it stands today shows the importance of the Court’s decision in Oliver and shows how the Court’s holding provided for the soundest precedent for courts, merchants, and marine insurers to rely on through the present.


Admiralty | Insurance Law | Law | United States History