281 U.S. 38 (130), 25, Lindgren v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 25
Citation:281 U.S. 38, 50 S.Ct. 207, 74 L.Ed. 686
Party Name:Lindgren v. United States
Case Date:February 24, 1930
Court:United States Supreme Court

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281 U.S. 38 (130)

50 S.Ct. 207, 74 L.Ed. 686



United States

No. 25

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1930

Argued October 25, 28, 1929




1. The Merchant Marine Act establishes as a modification of the prior maritime law a rule of general application in reference to the liability of the owners of vessels for injuries to seamen, and supersedes all state legislation on that subject. P. 44.

2. Where a seaman, in the course of his employment, suffers injuries resulting in death, but leaves no survivors designated as beneficiaries by the Employers' Liability Act -- made applicable in case of the death of a seaman by § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act -- the administrator is not entitled to maintain an action for the recovery of damages under the provisions of the federal Act, nor may he resort to the death statute of a state, either to create a right of action not given by the Merchant Marine Act or to establish a measure of damages not provided by that Act. P. 47.

3. Prior to the enactment of the Merchant Marine Act, the maritime law gave no right of recovery for the death of a seaman, although occasioned by negligence of the owner or other members of the crew or by unseaworthiness of the vessel. P. 47.

4. The right of action given by the second clause of § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act to the personal representative to recover damages, for and on behalf of designated beneficiaries, for the

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death of a seaman when caused by negligence, is exclusive, and precludes a right of recovery of indemnity for the death by reason of the unseaworthiness of the vessel, irrespective of negligence, notwithstanding that the right be predicated upon the death statute of the state in which the injury was received. P. 48.

28 F.2d 725 affirmed.

Certiorari, 279 U.S. 827, to review a decision of the circuit court of appeals which reversed a decree of the district court allowing a recovery against the United States in an action for the death of a seaman.

SANFORD, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case depends upon the construction and effect of § 33 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920,1 which amended § 20 of the Seamen's Act of 19152 so as to provide:

That any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply, and in case of the death of any seaman as a result of any such personal injury the personal representative

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of such seaman may maintain an action for damages at law with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States conferring or regulating the right of action for death in the case of railway employees shall be applicable. . . .

By this Act, as heretofore construed by this Court, the prior maritime law of the United States was modified by giving to seamen injured through negligence the rights given to railway employees by the federal Employers' Liability Act and its amendments, and permitting these new and substantive rights to be asserted and enforced in actions in personam against the employers in federal and state courts administering common law remedies, or in suits in admiralty in courts administering maritime remedies. Panama R. Co. v. Johnson, 264 U.S. 375; Engel v. Davenport, 271 U.S. 33; Panama R. Co. v. Vasquez, 271 U.S. 557; Baltimore S.S. Co. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316; Pacific S.S. Co. v. Peterson, 278 U.S. 130.

The federal Employers' Liability Act,3 which was incorporated in the Merchant Marine Act by reference, related to the liability of common carriers by railroad to their employees in interstate and other commerce, as specified. Section 1 provided that every such carrier "shall be liable in [50 S.Ct. 209] damages" to any employee suffering injury,

or, in case of the death of such employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; and, if none, then of such employee's parents; and, if none, then of the next of kin dependent upon such employee, for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.


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this section, if the injury to the employee results in death, his personal representative, while not given any right of action in behalf of the estate, is invested, solely as trustee for the designated survivors, with the right to recover for their benefit such damages as will compensate them for any pecuniary loss which they sustained by the death. See St. Louis & Iron Mtn. & S. Ry. v. Craft, 237 U.S. 648, 656; C., B. & Q. R. Co. v. Wells-Dickey Co., 275 U.S. 161, 163. And, if the employee leaves no survivors in any of the classes of beneficiaries alternatively designated, it necessarily follows that the personal representative cannot maintain any action to recover damages for the death, since there is no beneficiary in whose behalf such an action can be brought.

In 1926, Barford, a seaman employed as third mate on a merchant vessel owned by the United States,then lying at the port of Norfolk, Virginia, in a floating drydock of Colonna's Shipyard, Inc., in which it was being reconditioned, while working in a...

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