247 U.S. 372 (1918), 657, Chelentis v. Luckenbach Steamship Company, Incorporated

Docket Nº:No. 657
Citation:247 U.S. 372, 38 S.Ct. 501, 62 L.Ed. 1171
Party Name:Chelentis v. Luckenbach Steamship Company, Incorporated
Case Date:June 03, 1918
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 372

247 U.S. 372 (1918)

38 S.Ct. 501, 62 L.Ed. 1171



Luckenbach Steamship Company, Incorporated

No. 657

United States Supreme Court

June 3, 1918

Argued April 18, 1918




By the general maritime law, the vessel owner is liable only for the maintenance, cure, and wages of a seaman injured in the service of his .ship, by the negligence of a member of the crew, whether

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a superior officer or not, and this liability is not subject to be enlarged to full common law indemnity by the law of a state. Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205. So held in a case brought in a state court of New York and removed to the district court, to recover full common law damages from a Delaware owner for injuries received at sea on a voyage to New York.

Section 20 of the Seamen's Act of March 4, 1915, c. 153, 38 Stat. 1185, declaring "seamen having command shall not be held to be fellow servants with those under their authority," was not intended to substitute the common law measure of liability for the maritime rule in such cases.

The Judiciary Act of 1789, § 9, giving exclusive original admiralty and maritime jurisdiction to the district courts, saves "to suitor, in all cases, the right of a common law remedy, where the common law is competent to give it." Held that this, recognizing the fundamental distinction between rights and remedies, allows a right sanctioned by maritime law to be enforced through an appropriate common law remedy, but does not give a plaintiff his election to have the defendant's liability measured by common law standards instead of those prescribed by the maritime law.

243 F. 536 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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MCREYNOLDS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In December, 1915, petitioner was employed by respondent, a Delaware corporation as fireman on board the steamship J. L. Luckenbach, which it then operated and controlled. While at sea, twenty-four hours out from New York, the port of destination, petitioner undertook to perform certain duties on deck during a heavy wind; a wave came aboard, knocked him down, and broke his leg. He received due care immediately; when the vessel arrived at destination, he was taken to the marine hospital, where he remained for three months; during that time, it became necessary to amputate his leg. After discharge from the hospital, claiming that his injuries resulted from the negligence and an improvident order of a superior

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officer, he instituted a common law action in Supreme Court, New York County, demanding full indemnity for damage sustained. The cause was removed to the United States district court because of diverse citizenship. Counsel did not question seaworthiness of ship or her appliances, and announced that no claim was made for maintenance, cure, or wages. At conclusion of plaintiff's evidence, the court directed verdict for respondent, and judgment thereon was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 243 F. 536. The latter court said:

The contract of a seaman is maritime, and has written into it those peculiar features of the maritime law that were considered in the case of The Osceola, [189 U.S. 158], and although, because of these peculiarities, such contracts are almost invariably litigated in admiralty courts, still the contract must be the same in every court, maritime or common law. The only difference between a proceeding in one court or the other would be that the remedy would be regulated by the lex fori. If a seaman who had been locked up or put in irons for disobedience of orders were to sue the master for damages in a court of common law, he could not recover like a shore servant, such as a cook or chauffeur, who had received the same treatment. So a seaman, bringing suit in a common law court for personal injuries, could recover, even if guilty of contributory negligence, although a shore servant suing in the same court could not, and a seaman suing in a common law court for personal injuries could recover (except in the case of unseaworthiness of the vessel or failure to give proper care and medical attention) only wages to the end of the voyage and the expenses for maintenance and cure for a reasonable time thereafter, whereas in a similar case a shore servant would be entitled to recover full indemnity. Therefore, by virtue of the inherent nature of the seaman's contract, the defendant's negligence and the plaintiff's contributory negligence were totally immaterial

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considerations in this case; the sole question for the jury to determine being whether the plaintiff was entitled to recover because he had not received from the defendant his wages to the end of the voyage and the expense for his maintenance and cure for a reasonable time thereafter.

Has Congress changed the situation by § 20 of the Seamen's Act [c. 153, 38 Stat. 1164, 1185], as the plaintiff contends? He argues that the act makes the master a fellow servant of the seaman, and therefore that Congress intended to make the relation between the seaman and all the officers throughout the same as at common law. But the Supreme Court, in the case of The Osceola, supra, while reserving the question whether the master and seaman were fellow servants, held that it made no difference whatever in respect to the liability of the shipowners for an improvident order of the master which resulted in personal injuries to the seaman. . . .

It follows that whether the master and seaman are fellow servants or not is quite immaterial in the case of a suit for injuries resulting from an improvident order of the master. For this reason, the court was right in directing a verdict for the defendant, and the judgment is affirmed.

In The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, 175, a...

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