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In Dalehite v. United States, 346 U.S. 15, 45 (1953), the Supreme Court held that the Government was not liable for the extensive damage resulting from the explosion of two cargo vessels in the harbor of Texas City, Texas, in 1947. The Court's opinion rejected various specifications of negligence on the part of Government employees that had been found by the District Court in that case, and then went on to treat petitioners' claim that the Government was absolutely or strictly liable because of its having engaged in a dangerous activity. The Court said with respect to this aspect of the plaintiffs' claim: '[T]he the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671-2680 does not extend to such situations, though of course well known in tort law generally. It is to be invoked only on a `negligent or wrongful act or omission' of an employee.


Absolute liability, of course, arises irrespective of how the tortfeasor conducts himself; it is imposed automatically when any damages are sustained as a result of the decision to engage in the dangerous activity.' 346 U.S., at 44. The Court's resolution of the strict-liability issue in Dalehite did not turn ...

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