JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Respondent Santos, a longshoreman and an employee of respondent Seattle Stevedore Co., was injured while he was helping load the M/S Jalaratna, a vessel owned by petitioner Scindia Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. He later brought an action against Scindia pursuant to § 5 (b) of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (Act), as amended in 1972,
The District Court granted petitioner's motion for summary judgment;
For present purposes, we take the facts from the opinion of the Court of Appeals, which properly viewed the case in the light most favorable to Santos, against whom summary judgment had been granted.
On December 10, 1972, Seattle Stevedore Co., pursuant to its undertaking with Scindia, was engaged in loading a cargo of wheat into a hold of the M/S Jalaratna. A winch, part of the ship's gear, was being used to lower wooden pallets, each containing seventy 50-pound sacks of wheat, into the hold. Because of the location of the winch controls, the longshoreman operator relied on the hatch tender, another longshoreman,
On the day of the accident, as it had for the two previous days, the braking mechanism of the winch was malfunctioning in that it would not quickly stop the descent of a loaded pallet, which would continue to drop for several feet before coming to a stop. At the time important here, while a pallet was being lowered, the hatch tender signaled the winch operator to stop the descent of the load. The brake was applied, but the pallet did not stop before striking a pallet jack
Relying on the legislative history of the 1972 Amendments to the Act, the District Court held that the negligence standards governing the longshoreman's action against a shipowner under § 905 (b) are best expressed in Restatement (Second) of Torts §§ 343 and 343A (1965), which purport to
Based on the admissions of the parties and the depositions available to the court, the District Court concluded (1) that there was no dispute that the premises were in the exclusive control of Seattle during the loading operation and (2) that
Reversing, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the District Court and with other Courts of Appeals with respect to the applicable law. Sections 343 and 343A of the Restatement were improper measures of the shipowner's liability for negligence under § 905 (b)
Under this standard, Scindia's duty to inspect did not end even if the vessel was turned over to the stevedore in safe condition. If conditions dangerous to the longshoremen subsequently developed, in light of the vessel's practical opportunities to discover the dangers and remedy them, failure to do so could be negligence on its part.
Initially, we must briefly revisit the 1972 Amendments to the Act. Prior to 1972, a longshoreman injured while loading or unloading a ship could receive compensation payments and also have judgment against the shipowner if the injury was caused by the ship's unseaworthiness or negligence. Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85 (1946). Proof of unseaworthiness required no proof of fault on the part of the shipowner other than an unsafe, injury-causing condition on the vessel. This was true even though the condition was
The 1972 Amendments, particularly by adding § 905 (b), radically changed this scheme of things. The compensation payments due the longshoreman from the stevedore for injuries incurred in the course of his employment were substantially increased; the longshoreman's right to recover for unseaworthiness was abolished; his right to recover from the shipowner for negligence was preserved in § 905 (b), which provided a statutory negligence action against the ship; and the stevedore's obligation to indemnify the shipowner if the latter was held liable to the longshoreman was abolished.
Section 905 (b) did not specify the acts or omissions of the vessel that would constitute negligence. In light of the differences among the lower federal courts as to the construction and application of § 905 (b), neither can it be said that the legislative history, which has been analyzed and reanalyzed in the course of these cases, furnishes sure guidance for construing § 905 (b).
We held in Marine Terminals v. Burnside Shipping Co., 394 U.S. 404, 415 (1969), that the vessel owes to the stevedore and his longshoremen employees the duty of exercising due care "under the circumstances." This duty extends at
The parties, however, like the District Court and the Court of Appeals, are in sharp disagreement as to the vessel's duty under § 905 (b) once the stevedore's cargo operations have begun. Scindia contends that the shipowner has no duty to supervise or inspect the stevedore's cargo operations or to take reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions that develop or come to light during the loading or unloading. Scindia also submits that even if the vessel learns of the hazard, it has no duty to correct it and is entitled as a matter of law to rely on the stevedore to protect his employees from injury. This is true, Scindia argues, even though the hazard is an obviously
Considering first the position of the Court of Appeals, we cannot agree that the vessel's duty to the longshoreman requires the shipowner to inspect or supervise the stevedoring operation. Congress intended to make the vessel answerable for its own negligence and to terminate its automatic, faultless responsibility for conditions caused by the negligence or other defaults of the stevedore. Cases holding the vessel liable on the ground that it owed nondelegable duties to protect the longshoremen from injury were rejected.
The 1972 Amendments foreclosed indemnity of the shipowner by the stevedore in § 905 (b) cases; but they also rejected the notion of a nondelegable duty on the shipowner to provide a safe place to work and did not undermine the justifiable expectations of the vessel that the stevedore would perform with reasonable competence and see to the safety of the cargo operations.
We are of the view that absent contract provision, positive law, or custom to the contrary—none of which has been cited to us in this case—the shipowner has no general duty by way of supervision or inspection to exercise reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions that develop within the confines of the cargo operations that are assigned to the stevedore. The necessary consequence is that the shipowner is not liable to the longshoremen for injuries caused by dangers unknown to the owner and about which he had no duty to inform himself. This conclusion is plainly consistent with the congressional intent to foreclose the faultless liability of the shipowner based on a theory of unseaworthiness or nondelegable duty. The shipowner, within limits, is entitled to rely on the stevedore, and owes no duty to the longshoremen to inspect or supervise the cargo operations. To the extent that the judgment of the Court of Appeals rested on a contrary view, we disagree.
We arrive at the more difficult and recurring issue involved in this case: What are the shipowner's duties when he learns that an apparently dangerous condition exists or has developed in the cargo operation, which is known to the stevedore
In Crumady v. The J. H. Fisser, 358 U.S. 423 (1959), a ship's winch had been set by ship's officers to shut off the current at twice the safe working load of the unloading gear. The gear parted when subjected to undue strain because of the negligence of the stevedore. The Court held the ship unseaworthy. Consistent with past cases, the Court declared that the longshoremen's protection against unseaworthiness "imposes a duty which the owner of the vessel cannot delegate," a duty which, as to appliances, "does not end with supplying them; he must keep them in order." The shipowner "is not relieved of these responsibilities by turning control of the loading or unloading of the ship over to a stevedoring company." Id., at 427. The Court, nevertheless, permitted the ship to recover over from the stevedore "since the negligence of the stevedores . . . brought the unseaworthiness of the vessel into play . . . ." Id., at 429.
In Crumady, the Court declared that "those acting for the vessel owner" had adjusted the winch "in a way that made it unsafe and dangerous for the work at hand." Id., at 427. It thus appeared that the vessel had at least been negligent, yet it was entitled to shift its entire liability to the stevedore
The court below rejected this position, holding that if the vessel should realize that the condition presents an unreasonable risk of harm, it is liable if it "fails to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances" to protect the longshoremen. The court did not suggest how to recognize an "unreasonable risk" of harm from an obvious danger or suggest what reasonable care under the circumstances might be.
The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, while disagreeing with the duty-to-inspect thesis of the Court of Appeals in the present case, has also rejected this position, ruling that although the shipowner is normally entitled to rely on the stevedore to guard against hazards to its employees, "there may be circumstances in which it would not be reasonable for the shipowner to assume that the stevedore will correct the problem." Evans v. S.S. "Campeche," 639 F. 2d, at 856.
On the facts posited here, for two days prior to the accident, it had been apparent to those working with the winch that this equipment was malfunctioning. Even so, whether it could be safely used or whether it posed an unreasonable risk of harm to Santos or other longshoremen was a matter of judgment committed to the stevedore in the first instance. The malfunctioning being obvious and Seattle having continued to use it, Scindia submits that if it was aware of the condition or was charged with knowledge of it, it was nevertheless entitled to assume that Seattle, the specialist in loading and unloading, considered the equipment reasonably safe and was entitled to rely on that judgment.
Yet it is quite possible, it seems to us, that Seattle's judgment in this respect was so obviously improvident that Scindia, if it knew of the defect and that Seattle was continuing to use it, should have realized the winch presented
As we have indicated, the legal duties placed on the stevedore and the vessel's justifiable expectations that those duties will be performed are relevant in determining whether the shipowner has breached its duty. The trial court, and where appropriate the jury, should thus be made aware of the scope of the stevedore's duty under the positive law. But an equally necessary inquiry is whether the pertinent statutes, regulations, or custom place or assume a continuing duty on the vessel to repair defective ship's gear being used by the stevedore in the cargo operation.
The statutory duty of the stevedore under § 941 to provide a safe place to work has been implemented by the Safety and Health Regulations for Longshoring. 29 CFR § 1918.1 et seq. (1980). Subpart F of these regulations, § 1918.51 et seq., deals with the use of the ship's gear by the stevedore. Section 1918.51 (b) provides that "[a]ny component of cargo handling gear . . . which is visibly unsafe shall not be used until made safe." In addition, § 1918.53, dealing with cargo winches, provides that "[a]ny defect or malfunction of winches shall be reported immediately to the officer in charge of the vessel," § 1918.53 (a) (5); that in the case of electrical winches "[w]hen the electromagnetic or other service brake is unable to hold the load, the winch shall not be used,"
We raise these questions but do not answer them, since they are for the trial court in the first instance and since neither the trial nor appellate courts need deal with them unless there is sufficient evidence to submit to the jury either that the shipowner was aware of sufficient facts to conclude that the winch was not in proper order, or that the winch was defective when cargo operations began and that Scindia was chargeable with knowledge of its condition. The District Court concluded that there was no triable issue of fact as to whether the shipowner knew or should have known of the alleged condition of the winch. The Court of Appeals read the record quite differently, ruling that there was a disputed material fact, which the District Court should not itself have resolved, with respect to the shipowner's actual or constructive knowledge of the condition of the winch. To the extent that this conclusion was based on the Court of Appeals' erroneous view that the vessel should have known the facts because of its duty to inspect the stevedore's cargo handling operation, it was infirm. But as we understand the opinion below, the Court of Appeals held that there was a triable issue as to whether the shipowner had actual knowledge of the failure in the winch's braking mechanism or was chargeable with knowledge because the winch was defective from the outset. Based on our own examination of the record, we agree with the Court of Appeals in this respect and with its conclusion that the District Court erred in granting
Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the decision of this case.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL and JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, concurring.
My views are that under the 1972 Amendments: (1) a shipowner has a general duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances; (2) in exercising reasonable care, the shipowner must take reasonable steps to determine whether the ship's equipment is safe before turning that equipment over to the stevedore; (3) the shipowner has a duty to inspect the equipment turned over to the stevedore or to supervise the stevedore if a custom, contract provision, law or regulation creates either of those duties; and (4) if the shipowner has actual knowledge that equipment in the control of the stevedore is in an unsafe condition, and a reasonable belief that the stevedore will not remedy that condition, the shipowner has a duty either to halt the stevedoring operation, to make the stevedore eliminate the unsafe condition, or to eliminate the unsafe condition itself.
JUSTICE POWELL, with whom JUSTICE REHNQUIST joins, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion because I agree with its basic thrust—placing the primary burden on the stevedore for avoiding injuries caused by obvious hazards. I write only to emphasize the distinction between this approach and the general "reasonableness" standard adopted by the Ninth Circuit in this case.
Under the Court's opinion, "the shipowner has no general duty by way of supervision or inspection to exercise reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions that develop within the confines of the cargo operations that are assigned to the stevedore." Ante, at 172. In addition, the opinion makes clear that the shipowner has only a limited duty with respect to obvious hazards of which it is aware. Although the shipowner cannot rely in all cases on the judgment and primary responsibility of the stevedore concerning what conditions allow safe work to continue, safety is a "matter of judgment committed to the stevedore in the first instance." Ante, at 175. Only where the judgment of the stevedore is "obviously improvident," ibid., and this poor judgment either is known to the shipowner or reasonably should be anticipated under the circumstances, does the shipowner have a duty to intervene.
"§ 343. Dangerous Conditions Known to or Discoverable by Possessor
"A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his invitees by a condition on the land if, but only if, he
"(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and
"(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and
"(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger."
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343 provides:
"§ 343A. Known or Obvious Dangers
"(1) A possessor of land is not liable to his invitees for physical harm caused to them by any activity or condition on the land whose danger is known or obvious to them, unless the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.
"(2) In determining whether the possessor should anticipate harm from a known or obvious danger, the fact that the invitee is entitled to make use of public land, or of the facilities of a public utility, is a factor of importance indicating that the harm should be anticipated."
In Usner v. Luckenbach Overseas Corp., 400 U.S. 494 (1971), however, we ruled that a single act of operational negligence by the stevedore did not render the vessel unseaworthy or subject the vessel to liability.
At the same time, the Committees observed that the statutory cause of action for negligence would "meet the objective of encouraging safety because the vessel would still be required to exercise the same care as a land-based person in providing a safe place to work." Id., at 10. Nothing was intended "to derogate from the vessel's responsibility to take appropriate corrective action where it knows or should have known about a dangerous condition" as long as the vessel was not "chargeable with the negligence of the stevedore or employees of the stevedore." Id., at 10, 11.
The Committees also anticipated that in § 905 (b) cases, as in other admiralty cases, the rule of comparative negligence would apply and the defense of assumption of risk would be barred. Furthermore, the Reports emphasized that the amendments were not intended to relieve any person from his duties and obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
Otherwise, the definition of the vessel's negligence and its resulting liability were left to be "resolved through the application of accepted principles of tort law and the ordinary process of litigation—just as they are in cases involving alleged negligence by land-based third parties." Rep., p. 11. It was anticipated, however, that questions arising in § 905 (b) cases "shall be determined as a matter of Federal law." Rep., p. 12.
"So, for example, where a longshoreman slips on an oil spill on a vessel's deck and is injured, the proposed amendments to Section 5 would still permit an action against the vessel for negligence. To recover, he must establish that: 1) the vessel put the foreign substance on the deck, or knew that it was there, and willfully or negligently failed to remove it; or 2) the foreign substance had been on the deck for such a period of time that it should have been discovered and removed by the vessel in the exercise of reasonable care by the vessel under the circumstances." Id., at 10-11.
However, when the failure to remove the oil spill would be "willful" or "negligent" or what the exercise of reasonable care under the circumstances would require was not explicated except to say that the "vessel will not be chargeable with the negligence of the stevedore or employees of the stevedore." Id., at 11.
"(a) . . . Every employer shall furnish and maintain employment and places of employment which shall be reasonably safe for his employees in all employments covered by this chapter and shall install, furnish, maintain and use such devices and safeguards with particular reference to equipment used by and working conditions established by such employers as the Secretary may determine by regulation or order to be reasonably necessary to protect the life, health, and safety of such employees, and to render safe such employment and places of employment, and to prevent injury to his employees."
We note with some interest that in affirming a jury verdict for a longshoreman in Irizarry v. Compania Maritime Navegacion Netumar, S. A., No. 79-7876 (CA2, May 22, 1980), cert. pending, No. 80-94, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit relied on the Joint Maritime Safety Code issued by the New York Shipping Association, Inc., the International Longshoremen's Association, and the Port of New York Joint Safety Committee. The Code was prepared pursuant to the terms of the labor agreement between the shipping association and the longshoremen's union and contains what is described as "the commonly agreed on practices for working together safely." The provision of the Code relied on by the Court of Appeals states that "[t]he owner, master and officers of the vessel shall supply and maintain in safe condition for use all ship's gear equipment, tools and work spaces which are to be used in stevedoring operations."