In the early days the only crossing of the waters which divided Contra Costa County from the northern part of the State was a small ferry running between Martinez and Benicia. In 1856 this ferry got into the Courts due to an accident which happened on the Benicia side. It seems that one Polk wanted his cattle ferried across Suisun Bay and for that purpose drove them upon the wharf at Benicia preparatory to loading them upon the ferry. While they were boarding the boat, the wharf gave away and the cattle were precipitated into the cold and unsympathetic waters of the bay. Some of the cattle were drowned and others injured.
Polk thereafter brought suit against the ferrymen for his damages. The ferry owners attempted to make an ingenious defense. They claimed that they were operating without a license from either Contra Costa County or Solano County, or from either of the towns of Martinez or Benicia, and that they were operating a ferry without a license, they were not responsible for injuries to persons or animals using their unlicensed ferry. The Court paid but little attention to this defense, holding that they were holding themselves out as a public ferry for hire, and that they could not take advantage of their own wrong to avoid the responsibility which attached to their calling. The Court then added 10% to the amount found due in the lower Court as additional damages for making the appeal.
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