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Thompson v. Calmar Steamship Corp.

April 15, 1964

JAMES THOMPSON
v.
CALMAR STEAMSHIP CORPORATION, APPELLANT.



Author: Nealon

Before STALEY and GANEY, Circuit Judges, and NEALON, District Judge.

NEALON, District Judge.

Plaintiff, James Thompson, brought suit against defendant, Calmar Steamship Corporation, seeking to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of defendant's negligence and for breach of the warranty of seaworthiness under the principles of maritime law. The jury having returned a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $118,000.00, defendant has filed this appeal.

The relevant facts are well summarized in the opinion of the Court below, as follows:

"Plaintiff was one of a stevedoring company's gang of longshoremen employed to load shipments of steel aboard the defendant's vessel, lying anchored in navigable waters. The steel was being loaded directly from gondola freight cars in which it had been shipped and which were on the pier. During the evening and early morning hours of December 27-28, 1957, the work of loading had been going on. A number of cars had been unloaded and by approximately 3:30 to 4:00 A.M., there were six cars on the pier. The first in line, Car No. 1, had been unloaded some time before and the longshoremen had just completed the unloading of Car No. 2. It was necessary to move Car No. 2 from its position under the boom of the vessel which was opposite the No. 1 hatch and to bring Car No. 3 into its place. There was no shifting engine available to move the cars. The longshoremen therefore attached the bull line from the No. 3 hatch of the vessel to three loaded cars (Nos. 4, 5, and 6) which were coupled together about 150 to 300 feet away, and by employing the bull winch and utilizing the power of the ship's engines jerked the three loaded cars forward. Using the three cars as a kind of battering ram, as plaintiff's counsel well described it, they struck Car No. 3, driving it forward so that it would bump Car No. 2 out of its position.It was necessary, of course, to bring Car No. 3 to a stop when it reached the proper position under the boom. For this purpose one longshoreman stood near the track with chocks and another, the plaintiff, was stationed at the brake of Car No. 3.

"When the ship's line, drawn by the winch, pulled the three coupled freight cars into motion they struck Car No. 3 with such force that plaintiff was catapulted to the opposite side of the car and fell between it and the platform, on the side away from the vessel. Two of the wheels of Car No. 3 ran over his left leg and amputated it."

Before considering the arguments of appellant, certain basic propositions must be established. It is elementary that the owner of a ship is liable to indemnify a seaman for an injury caused by the unseaworthiness of the vessel or its appurtenant appliances and equipment and it has been settled law in this Country ever since The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, 23 S. Ct. 483, 47 L. Ed. 760 (1903). There can be no dispute also, that longshoremen, engaged in the service of the ship, are entitled to the same protection against unseaworthiness which members of the ship's crew would enjoy. Seas Shipping Company v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 66 S. Ct. 872, 90 L. Ed. 1099 (1946). McKnight v. N. M. Paterson & Sons, Ltd., 286 F.2d 250 (6th Cir. 1960). The work of loading and unloading the ship is, as a matter of law, the work of the ship's service, performed until recent times by members of the crew. Hagans v. Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Company, 318 F.2d 563 (3d Cir. 1963). The shipowner cannot escape liability by the simple means of delegating the loading function to an independent contractor. "* * * [that] the owner seeks to have it done with the advantages of more modern divisions of labor does not minimize the worker's hazard and should not nullify his protection." Seas Shipping Company v. Sieracki (supra). Further, the unseaworthiness of a vessel or its equipment may arise from acts of the longshoremen crew or, indeed, of the injured longshoreman himself. Grillea v. United States, 232 F.2d 919 (2d Cir. 1956); Knox v. United States Lines Company, 294 F.2d 354 (3d Cir. 1961); Smith v. Lauritzen, 201 F.Supp. 663 (E.D.Pa.1962).

If the longshoreman is actually engaged in the service of the ship, it is immaterial whether the accident caused by the vessel's unseaworthiness occurs away from the ship on the pier. Gutierrez v. Waterman Steamship Corporation, 373 U.S. 206, 83 S. Ct. 1185, 10 L. Ed. 2d 297 (1963). As Mr. Justice White observed in Gutierrez:

"Respondent contends that it is not liable, at least in admiralty, because the impact of its alleged lack of care or unseaworthiness was felt on the pier rather than aboard ship. Whatever validity this proposition may have had until 1948, the passage of Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, 62 Stat. 496, 46 USC ยง 740, swept it away when it made vessels on navigable water liable for damage or injury 'notwithstanding that such damage or injury be done or consummated on land.' Respondent and the carrier amici curiae would have the statute limited to injuries actually caused by the physical agency of the vessel or a particular part of it - such as when the ship rams a bridge or when its defective winch drops some cargo onto a longshoreman. Cf. Strika v. Netherlands Ministry of Traffic, 185 F.2d 555 (C.A.2d Cir.); Hagans v. Farrell Lines [Inc.], 237 F.2d 477 (C.A.3rd Cir.). Nothing in the legislative history supports so restrictive an interpretation of the statutory language."

The shipowner's actual or constructive knowledge of the unseaworthy condition is not essential to his liability, and this is true whether the unseaworthy condition be of a permanent or merely a temporary nature. Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.S. 539, 80 S. Ct. 926, 4 L. Ed. 2d 941 (1960); Alaska Steamship Co., Inc. v. Petterson, 347 U.S. 396, 74 S. Ct. 601, 98 L. Ed. 798 (1954). "A vessel's unseaworthiness might arise from any number of individualized circumstances. Her gear might be defective, her appurtenances in disrepair, her crew unfit. The method of loading her cargo, or the manner of its storage might be improper." (emphasis supplied) Morales v. City of Galveston, 370 U.S. 165, 82 S. Ct. 1226, 8 L. Ed. 2d 412 (1962).

Here we are faced with a highly questionable loading procedure. Plaintiff was a member of a longshoremen's gang engaged in loading a vessel, and in the course of doing so it fell to him to participate in an operation on land, but one intimately associated with the use of the ship's equipment, i.e., the bull winch and the bull line. As Judge Freedman so aptly stated in his opinion in the District Court:

"What occasioned the accident and brought the warranty of seaworthiness into operation was not the plaintiff's position on a freight car on a pier. It was rather the additional element of the use of the vessel's equipment and the physical attachment of the ship's line to the three loaded freight cars so as to make them the hammerhead to strike Car No. 3 into position by the application of the steam power of the ship's engines and the tightening of the line by the bull winch. A longshoreman injured by a defective ship's line cast from the vessel to the pier surely may be said to have been injured by unseaworthy ship's gear. Equally so would unseaworthiness exist if the ship's defective gear caused his injury by the fall of cargo which in itself was harmless. Here the otherwise harmless freight cars became animated by the power of the ship's engines and the physical connection of the ship's line. There is no insulation of unseaworthiness of the ship's line and its attachments merely because the attachments were not in themselves defective if used in some other manner." Thompson v. Calmar Steamship Company, 216 F.Supp. 234 (E.D.Pa.1963).

In Robillard v. A. L. Burbank & Co., Ltd., 186 F.Supp. 193 (S.D.N.Y.1960) (cited with approval in Gutierrez), the longshoremen crew used the vessel's winches, which the Court found were operating properly, to unload lumber from the vessel. The lumber was being unloaded from the center of the deck at first and the Second Mate was dissatisfied with this procedure and so informed the stevedores inasmuch as he feared that the heavy loads passing over the remainder of the cargo on the side of the deck might "knock it off the dock." He remonstrated with the stevedores, but they continued their operation, and while one of the loads passed over the side it dislodged several pieces of the stacked lumber which fell over and hit plaintiff longshoreman, who was working on the dock. Circuit Judge Friendly, sitting by designation, citing Mitchell, Petterson, and Grillea, held that the unsafe method of unloading the lumber rendered the equipment unseaworthy.

In Strika v. Netherlands Ministry of Traffic, 185 F.2d 555 (2d Cir. 1950), the longshoremen crew was attempting to lift a heavy metal "pontoon" from the dock by fastening it with two "bridles" to the ship's winches, booms and falls. The pontoon fell and struck a longshoreman ...


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