295 U.S. 649 (1935), 696, The Admiral Peoples

Docket Nº:No. 696
Citation:295 U.S. 649, 55 S.Ct. 885, 79 L.Ed. 1633
Party Name:The Admiral Peoples
Case Date:June 03, 1935
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 649

295 U.S. 649 (1935)

55 S.Ct. 885, 79 L.Ed. 1633

The Admiral Peoples

No. 696

United States Supreme Court

June 3, 1935

Submitted April 12, 1935




A passenger, while disembarking from a ship over its gangplank, which projected above a dock, fell from the shore end of the gangplank to the dock and was injured by the fall. Negligence in failing to provide

Page 650

a railing on the gangplank, in failing to have the plank flush with the dock or taper off to the dock level, and in failing to give warning of the step was charged against the ship. Held that the gangplank was part of the ship, and the cause of action in admiralty. P. 651.

73 F.2d 170 reversed.

Certiorari, 294 U.S. 702, to review a judgment affirming a judgment sustaining an exception to a libel in admiralty.

HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner was a passenger on the steamship "Admiral Peoples" on her voyage from Wilmington, California, to Portland, Oregon. While disembarking at Portland, petitioner was injured by falling from a gangplank leading from the vessel to the dock. This libel in rem against the vessel alleged that respondent placed the gangplank so that it sloped from the ship toward the dock at an angle of from ten to fifteen degrees; that it was approximately two feet in width and eighteen feet in length, and was equipped with the usual rope railings which terminated approximately three feet from each end; that the level of the plank at the shore end was about six inches above the level of the dock, thereby creating a step from the plank to the dock; that, upon instructions from one of respondent's officers, libelant proceeded along the plank, and, as she reached its lower end, being unaware of the step and having no warning, she fell from the plank and was "violently and forcibly thrown forward upon the

Page 651

dock in such manner as to cause the injuries hereinafter set forth." Libelant alleged negligence in failing to provide a hand rope or railing extending along either side of the gangplank to the shore end, in failing to have the plank flush with the dock or taper off to the level of the dock, and in failing to give warning of the step.

Respondent's exception to the libel, upon the ground that the case was not within the admiralty jurisdiction, was sustained by the District Court, and its judgment dismissing the libel was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. In view of an asserted conflict with other decisions of the federal courts, * we granted a writ of certiorari.

This is one of the border cases involving the close distinctions which from time to time are necessary in applying the principles governing the admiralty jurisdiction. That jurisdiction in cases of tort depends upon the locality of the injury. It does not extend to injuries caused by a vessel to persons or property on the land. Where the cause of action arises upon the land, the state law is applicable. The Plymouth, 3 Wall. 20, 33; Johnson v. Chicago & Pacific Elevator Co., 119 U.S. 388, 397; Cleveland, Terminal & V. R. Co. v. Cleveland Steamship Co., 208 U.S. 316, 319; Atlantic Transport Co. v. Imbrovek, 234 U.S. 52, 59; State Industrial Comm'n v. Nordenholt Co., 259 U.S. 263, 272; T. Smith & Son v. Taylor, 276 U.S. 179, 181; compare Vancouver S.S. Co. v. Rice, 228 U.S. 445, 448.

The basic fact in the instant case is that the gangplank was a part of the vessel. It was a part of the vessel's equipment which was placed in position to enable its passengers to reach the shore. It was no less a part of the vessel because, in its extension to the dock, it projected

Page 652

over the land. Thus, while libelant was on the gangplank, she had not yet left the vessel. This was still...

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