MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
The first question to be decided in this seaman's personal injury suit for damages on the grounds of unseaworthiness and negligence under the Jones Act
The trial judge submitted for the jury's determination various bases of respondent's alleged liability, including
Petitioner was a lookout on the S. S. United States. He was injured as he moved from a ladder to a platform leading to his post in the crow's-nest. The crow's-nest was housed in a "bubble" half way up a hollow aluminum radar tower which rose 65 feet from the bridge deck. The ladder extended the full height of the tower along the inside of its after side. At various levels inside the tower were horizontal platforms, at the after ends of which were access openings slightly larger than manholes, through which the ladder passed straight up. The tower was more than six feet from fore to aft at the crow's-nest level, and tapered from four to three feet in width. There was only a narrow ledge around three-quarters of the opening in the platform at that level; the platform proper was toward the bow, and led to the door in the crow's-nest. As a seaman climbed the ladder to the crow's-nest, he faced astern until his feet were approximately level with the platform. To get from the ladder to the platform proper, he had to pivot, putting one foot on the starboard or port ledge, follow it with the other foot, complete his pivot and step forward along the ledge to the platform proper. Although the respondent describes the crow's-nest and its approach as "purposely constructed
On the night of February 15-16, 1958, as the United States went at high speed and rolled in rough seas, the tower was plunged into darkness, just as the petitioner was executing the movement to the crow's-nest platform from the ladder. Illumination within the tower was provided by five electric lights at various levels, but these burned out frequently. Two had been out for a long period and two others had gone out a few hours before the accident, leaving as the only light that which was at the crow's-nest platform. At some point after petitioner had begun the maneuver from ladder to platform, but before he reached a place on the platform proper and away from the access opening, that last light went out. An instant later petitioner fell backwards across the opening and struck his head against the ladder and his lower back against the fore edge of the opening, leaving his body suspended in the opening. He grasped the ladder rungs and called for help from the lookout on duty in the crow's-nest. With the lookout's aid he was able to seat himself on the starboard ledge with his legs hanging down through the opening and his right arm around the cable pipe. The lookout returned to the crow's-nest to phone the bridge for help. In his absence the petitioner became dizzy and fell through the opening to a place eight feet below the platform.
This is not one of the rare causes of action in which the law predicates recovery upon expert testimony. See Wigmore, Evidence (3d ed. 1940), §§ 2090, 2090a. Rather, the general rule is as stated by Mr. Justice Van Devanter, when circuit judge, that expert testimony not only is unnecessary but indeed may properly be excluded in the discretion of the trial judge "if all the primary facts can be accurately and intelligibly described to the jury, and if they, as men of common understanding, are as capable of comprehending the primary facts and of drawing correct conclusions from them as are witnesses possessed of special or peculiar training, experience, or observation in respect of the subject under investigation . . . ." United States Smelting Co. v. Parry, 166 F. 407, 411, 415. Furthermore, the trial judge has broad discretion in the matter of the admission or exclusion of expert evidence, and his action is to be sustained unless manifestly erroneous. Spring Co. v. Edgar, 99 U.S. 645, 658.
This Court has held, in a factual context similar to this, that there was no error, let alone manifest error, in having a jury decide without the aid of experts. Spokane & Inland Empire R. Co. v. United States, 241 U.S. 344,
In sum, we agree with Judge Smith in dissent below:
Indeed, "if there was a reason hidden from the ordinary mind why this condition of things must have existed, those facts called upon the defendant to make that reason known. Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. Williams, 103 Tex. 228, 231, 125 S. W. 881, 882; and see Poignant v. United States, 225 F.2d 595, 602 (concurring opinion).
There is another question to be decided. The petitioner also sought maintenance and cure. The trial judge awarded past maintenance, which the respondent has not disputed, and also future maintenance for three years. The Court of Appeals set aside the award of future maintenance, saying: "There does not appear to be any sufficient basis, by opinion evidence or otherwise, for the finding that three years is the period reasonably to be
We affirm as respects maintenance but otherwise reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. Since other grounds of reversal urged by the respondent were not reached by that court, the case is remanded to it for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER took no part in the decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting in part and concurring in part.
I do not read the Court of Appeals' opinion either as holding that, because of "peculiar fact circumstances" petitioner's claims respecting the alleged faulty construction of the radar tower required "supporting expert testimony" (ante, pp. 35, 32) (emphasis added), or as establishing a general proposition that such testimony is needed in every instance where a seaman claims to have been injured because of his employer's failure to equip a ship with safety devices.
The trial transcript, insofar as it has been reproduced in the record before this Court, bears out the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that evidence with respect to the alleged failure to maintain appropriate safety devices was entirely lacking. Petitioner's evidence, apart from medical testimony concerning the extent of his injuries, related almost entirely to the alleged slippery condition of the platform leading to the crow's-nest, the inadequate and defective lighting, and the negligence of the lookout. Petitioner himself did testify that there was no "grip" or "handrails" at the crow's-nest level, and photographs that were introduced into evidence confirmed this undisputed assertion.
With nothing more before the jury than this, the trial court's instruction certainly left the jury entirely at large
I agree with this Court's holding as to future maintenance. I would affirm.
Although the law favors the aid of experts if the problem is not one "upon which the lay or uneducated mind is capable of forming a judgment," Milwaukee & St. P. R. Co. v. Kellogg, 94 U.S. 469, 472, if the matter is only arguably beyond common experience, expert testimony will be admitted with care. The rule reflects the consideration of avoidance of unnecessarily prolonged trials and attendant expense and confusion. Winans v. New York & Erie R. Co., 21 How. 88, 100-101; and see Thorn v. Worthing Skating Rink Co. (1876), reported in Plimpton v. Spiller, 6 Ch. D. 412, footnote at 415-418 (1877).