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Dobbins v. Crain Brothers Inc.

argued: October 18, 1977.

CHESTER DOBBINS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AT 77-1213
v.
CRAIN BROTHERS, INC., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT & THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AT 77-1214 V. THE PITTSBURGH AND LAKE ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY, A CORPORATION, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT AT 77-1215. (D.C. CIVIL NO. 75-99)



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Adams and Garth, Circuit Judges, and Layton,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Garth

Opinion OF THE COURT

GARTH, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises from an accident at the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company's (PLE) Colona Coal Dock on the Ohio River, in which the plaintiff Chester Dobbins, a member of the railroad's river crew, was injured while working on a barge owned by Crain Brothers, Inc. (Crain). After a jury trial, the district court entered a judgment against Crain in favor of Dobbins, which we affirm. However, the district court then held that liability must be apportioned between the defendant Crain and the third-party defendant PLE, and thus entered a judgment in Crain's favor against PLE for part of Crain's liability to Dobbins. It is only this portion of the district court's judgment which we are obliged to reverse.

This accident occurred before the 1972 amendments to the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950, which became effective on December 26, 1972, and which substantially changed the law involved in this case. See Hurst v. Triad Shipping Co., 554 F.2d 1237 (3d Cir. 1977). Hence there is little probability that in the future courts will be required to confront the legal problems presented by this case. Nevertheless, since we believe that the district court's allocation of liability does not comport with the Sieracki*fn1 - Halycon*fn2 - Ryan*fn3 trilogy we reverse so much of the district court's judgment as required contribution between PLE and Crain. For the reasons following, we hold that the district court erred in failing to present to the jury the question of whether Crain was entitled to indemnity from PLE based on a breach by PLE of its warranty of workmanlike performance.

I.

Crain, the vessel owner in this case, hauls coal on riverbarges for the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company. Crain delivers the coal in barges to PLE at its Colona Coal Dock. PLE then tranships the coal from the barges to its railroad cars. On February 5, 1972, in the afternoon, Crain towed its Barge No. 681, loaded with coal, to the Colona facility to be unloaded. Dobbins, a longtime employee of PLE, reported to work just before midnight. Dobbins was a full time member of PLE's river crew, holding the position of "car loader no. 2", a utility man who performed various tasks as needed.

About one a.m. on February 6 it began to snow, and the snow continued throughout the night. Shortly before eight a.m., Dobbins was ordered by his supervisor to "round" Barge 681 and another barge. Dobbins loosened the mooring on the downriver inboard corner of the barges, and removed the upriver mooring so that the river current would pivot the barges 180 degrees. After the current had brought the barges around, Dobbins stepped onto Barge 681 in order to moor the upriver corner. He fell on ice and snow which had accumulated on the deck of the barge, and was injured. See the district court's opinion, 432 F. Supp. 1060 (W.D. Pa. 1976).

II.

Dobbins thereafter collected $560 in Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' compensation from PLE. He then filed suit against PLE in the Western District of Pennsylvania (at Civil Action No. 74-50), asserting a claim under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688 et seq. (1970). Dobbins and PLE settled for $85,000. The settlement was approved by the district court, and Dobbins subsequently executed a release in PLE's favor. Crain was not a party to the suit at No. 74-50, nor was it a party to the settlement or release.

Dobbins then filed the instant action (at Civil Action No. 75-99) against Crain, asserting claims of unseaworthiness and under the Jones Act. The district court dismissed the Jones Act claim during trial on the ground that Crain was not Dobbins' employer. This ruling has not been appealed. After the evidence had been presented, the case was submitted to the jury on Special Interrogatories. The jury found that:

1) the barge was unseaworthy

2) PLE was not the owner pro hac vice of the barge

3) Dobbins was 25% at fault

4) Dobbins suffered total damages in the amount ...


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