The judgment is affirmed. Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 100; Pope & Talbot v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406.
MR. JUSTICE BURTON, with whom MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER and MR. JUSTICE JACKSON join, dissenting.
The question presented by the instant case goes further. It asks whether a shipowner is liable for injuries suffered on his ship by a stevedore, even when those injuries result from unseaworthiness of equipment that does not belong to the shipowner and is not part of the ship's equipment, but belongs to the stevedore's independent employer, is part of that employer's loading equipment, and is brought on board by such employer. There is no suggestion in the cited cases that the shipowner's responsibility extends beyond the seaworthiness of his ship and its equipment, and I see no adequate reason for judicially extending it beyond that limit.
As the instant case offers a new precedent, it is important to recite its facts so that its effect may be accurately measured and limited in the absence of a supporting opinion.
The Court of Appeals stated the question which it decided as follows:
Respondent Petterson was an able-bodied stevedore, 73 years old, employed as a longshore foreman by the Alaska Terminal and Stevedoring Company. That company was engaged by petitioner Alaska Steamship Company, Inc., to load the latter's vessel, the S. S. Susitna. In May 1950 respondent thus became engaged in loading that vessel while it was docked in what is assumed to be navigable water in the State of Washington. Petterson's employer, the stevedoring company, was authorized by
Petterson filed a libel in personam in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington against the shipowner claiming $35,000 damages resulting from the unseaworthiness of the block. After trial, the libel was dismissed without a reported opinion. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decree and remanded the cause for determination of damages. 205 F.2d 478. Because of an alleged conflict with Lopez v. American-Hawaiian S. S. Co., 201 F.2d 418, and the importance of the decision in relation to a shipowner's liability for unseaworthiness, we granted certiorari. 346 U.S. 914.
The doctrine of seaworthiness was stated as a settled proposition in The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, 175, as follows:
That doctrine was a natural outgrowth of the dependence of a ship's crew upon the seaworthiness of the ship and its equipment. Services of a crew must be rendered with whatever equipment the shipowner supplies. Such seamen are not expected to supply maritime or loading equipment and it is only fair for the law to subject shipowners to an absolute liability to them for the unseaworthiness of the shipowner's ship or equipment.
Petitioner also has emphasized the fact that Petterson was injured while working in a part of the ship that was under the control of the stevedoring contractor rather than of the shipowner. This distinction, in favor of the shipowner, was relied upon in Lopez v. American-Hawaiian S. S. Co., supra, and has been considered decisive in other cases. However, if the unseaworthy equipment, in the instant case had been a part of the ship's equipment, the principles underlying the Sieracki and Pope & Talbot decisions, supra, might justify the shipowner's liability, regardless of who was in control of the part of the ship where that equipment caused the injury.
Finally, the extension of a shipowner's absolute liability so as to include the unseaworthiness of equipment
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment should be reversed and the extension of liability which it introduced should be left to legislative initiative. In any event, the effect of it should be restricted to its facts.
"The Libelant has failed to establish, through the evidence introduced, that the snatch block involved, which apparently caused the accident and injury to the Libelant, belonged to or was part of the ship gear of the Respondent [shipowner].
"Such finding was conceded, in effect, by Counsel for Libelant in his argument.
"Proceeding on that assumption, Counsel for Libelant argued that the logic or reasoning of the case of Seas Shipping Company, Inc., v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, would impose the obligation of seaworthiness of the vessel upon Respondent [shipowner] as to gear—in this case a snatch block—not belonging to Respondent but being used by the stevedore in loading the ship.
"The Court can not agree that the Supreme Court ruling in that case would justify such a conclusion."
The Court of Appeals said:
"It is not clear whether the block belonged to the ship or the Stevedoring Co., it being the type of equipment commonly found as part of the gear of both ships and stevedoring firms. For the purposes of this appeal, it will be assumed that it was brought on board by Stevedoring Co. . . .
"The court below granted a decree for the Owner on the ground that it was not shown that the block belonged to or was a part of the gear of the Susitna. Petterson's argument that liability should be imposed even if the gear belonged to the Stevedoring Co. was rejected by the court on the ground that Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 66 S.Ct. 872, 90 L. Ed. 1099, did not go so far." 205 F. 2d, at 479.