Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Peril of the Sea Definition:

Damage to property occurring as a result of an accident at sea.

A term of maritime insurance contracts, typically an insurable risk and thus, often hotly contested by insurers.

In Canada Rice Mills, Justice Wright wrote:

"Where there is an accidental incursion of seawater into a vessel at a part of the vessel, and in a manner, where seawater is not expected to enter in the ordinary course of things, and there is consequent damage to the thing insured, there is prima facie a loss by perils of the sea. The accident may consist in some negligent act, such as improper opening of a valve, or a hole made in a pipe by mischance, or it may be that seawater is admitted by stress of weather or some like cause bringing the sea over openings ordinarily not exposed to the sea or, even without stress of weather, by the vessel heeling over owing to some accident, or by the breaking of hatches or other coverings.  These are merely a few amongst many possible instances in which there may be a fortuitous incursion of seawater.  It is the fortuitous entry of the seawater which is the peril of the sea in such cases.  Whether in any particular case there is such a loss is a question of fact for the jury."

While insurers insure against loss resulting from perils of the sea, the term has been defined by Justice Bramwell in Hamilton Fraser:

"A peril of the sea ... is a sea damage, occurring at sea and nobody's fault.

"What is the peril? It is that the ship or goods will be lost or damaged; but it must be of the sea. Fire would not be a peril of the sea. So of lightning."

In 1887, writing in Xantho, Justice Herschell wrote that in order to constitute a peril of the sea:

"... there must be some casualty, something which could not be foreseen as one of the necessary incidents of the adventure....

tidal wave"It must be a peril of the sea.

"Again, it is well settled that it is not every loss or damage of which the sea is the immediate cause that is covered by these words. They do not protect, for example, against that natural and inevitable action of the winds and waves, which results in what may be described as wear and tear. There must be some casualty, something which could not be foreseen as one of the necessary incidents of the adventure. The purpose of the policy is to secure an indemnity against accidents which may happen, not against events which must happen.

"It was contended that those losses only were losses by perils of the sea, which were occasioned by extraordinary violence of the winds or waves. ... This is too narrow a construction of the words, and it is certainly not supported by the authorities or by common understanding."

In Kruger, Justice Pinard wrote:

"... perils of the sea ... in relation to damage to goods carried on a vessel, must be perils which could not be foreseen or guarded against as probable incidents of the intended voyage."

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