A legal conundrum…

August 1, 2009 by  
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legal_conundrumThe Olympia Transcript” newspaper of Washington Territory, Nov. 30, 1867, poses an interesting question:

“Suppose a man owns a skiff; he fastens the skiff to the shore with a rope made of straw; along comes a cow; cow gets into the boat; turns around & eats the rope; the skiff thus let loose with the cow on board, starts down stream and on its passage is upset; the cow is drowned. Now, has the man that owns the cow got to pay for the boat or the man that owns the boat got to pay for the cow?”

Any thoughts from our readers?

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4 Responses to “A legal conundrum…”

  1. Morris on August 1st, 2009 9:46 pm

    The man who owns the boat took the necessary precautions to secure the boat to the dock.

    The cow was roaming free and was not monitored by its owner.

    A cow, like a dog, does not rise to the level of possessing the faculty to determine right from wrong.

    Animals live as it is their nature to live. They do not choose between right and wrong. Animals do not choose at all. Only man chooses.

    The cow acted as was its nature to act. It ate the straw.

    The cow, like a dog, cannot be at fault because to be at fault you need to make a moral choice; something the cow did not have the ability to do.

    The owner of the cow, never the less, remains libel for the action of the cow just as the owner of a dog would remain libel for the action of a dog that was permitted to roam free without being monitored.

    The owner of the cow, though, could contest the verdict by pointing out that the owner of the boat did not take the necessary precaution to secure the boat with a substantial material such as a steel chain.

    To be equitable in this settlement I suggest they find the cow. They should then slaughter the cow and the owner of the cow should then give the front half of the cow to the owner of the boat as settlement for the damage or loss of the boat.

    The back half of the cow should be kept by its owner.

    They should both then butcher the part of the cow they have and sell it to the local meat market. With the proceeds from the sale of the meat the boat owner can buy a new boat and the cow owner can buy a calf.

  2. Steve Keller on August 2nd, 2009 10:56 pm

    Everyone is at fault. The skiff owner is at fault because, well, if you are rich enough to own a skiff, you just are. He should have used a chain. But also at fault is the marina owner, the security company that guards the marina, the property owner who rents the land to the skiff owner, and the fence company whose fence didn’t properly restrain the cow in the first place. If the cow is handicapped and had to stumble into the boat without aid of a properly designed gang plank, then additional fault will be found against the landowner and the skiff’s owner. While the skiff owner’s accountant didn’t do anything wrong nor did the boat’s crew, they will likely be sued and a settlement obtained from them. The only one not at fault will be the cows owner because no one is responsible for their actions. Someone else is always at fault. I know this is true because I asked my lawyer.

  3. Erik Anderson on August 3rd, 2009 12:49 am

    The owner of the cow is at fault.

  4. Morris on August 4th, 2009 11:12 am


    Your post is not only well written, but it is exceptionally amusing.

    Thank you for putting a smile on my face.


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