373 U.S. 410 (1963), 509, Reed v. The Yaka

Docket Nº:No. 509
Citation:373 U.S. 410, 83 S.Ct. 1349, 10 L.Ed.2d 448
Party Name:Reed v. The Yaka
Case Date:May 27, 1963
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 410

373 U.S. 410 (1963)

83 S.Ct. 1349, 10 L.Ed.2d 448

Reed

v.

The Yaka

No. 509

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1963

Argued April 22, 1963

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, a longshoreman, filed a libel in rem in a Federal District Court against a ship for injuries sustained while engaged in loading the ship as an employee of a corporation which was operating it under a bareboat charter. The District Judge found that, at the time of the injury, petitioner was aboard the ship, standing on a stack of wooden pallets used in loading the ship, and that the sole cause of the injury was a latent defect in one of the planks of a pallet, which caused it to break. He held that the defective pallet supplied by the chartering corporation rendered the ship unseaworthy, and that, therefore, petitioner could recover against the ship. The corporation contended that it could not be held liable in damages to petitioner, because it was petitioner's employer, and the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act provides that compensation liability of an employer under that Act is exclusive and in place of any other liability on his part.

Held: Petitioner was not barred by that Act from relying on the corporation's liability as a shipowner pro hac vice for the ship's unseaworthiness in order to support his libel in rem against the ship. Pp. 410-416.

307 F.2d 203 reversed.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a longshoreman, filed a libel in rem in a United States District Court against the steamship Yaka to recover for injuries he sustained while engaged in loading the vessel. The Yaka's owner, Waterman Steamship Corporation, appeared as claimant of the ship, but brought in as an additional defendant petitioner's employer, Pan-Atlantic

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Steamship Corporation, which at the time of the accident was operating Waterman's ship under a bareboat charter and whose negligence Waterman alleged caused petitioner's injury. The district judge found that, at the time of the injury, petitioner was in the ship standing on a stack of rectangular, wooden pallets used in loading the vessel, and that the sole cause of the injury was a latent defect in one of the planks of a pallet, which caused it to break. The judge held that the defective pallet supplied by Pan-Atlantic rendered Waterman's Yaka unseaworthy, and that therefore petitioner could recover against the ship. But since the defective pallet was furnished by Pan-Atlantic, the trial judge went on to hold that it must make Waterman whole because of an indemnity clause in the bareboat charter agreement. 183 F.Supp. 69. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the judgment, holding that neither Waterman nor Pan-Atlantic could be held personally liable for the unseaworthiness, and that a libel in rem against a ship could not be sustained unless there was an underlying personal liability to support the in rem action. 307 F.2d 203. Having previously reserved, in Guzman v. Pichirilo, 369 U.S. 698, 700 n. 3 (1962), the question of whether personal liability is essential to the liability of a ship, we granted certiorari. 371 U.S. 938.

In determining that there was no underlying personal liability for the unseaworthiness of the vessel, the Court of Appeals held that (1) Waterman, the actual owner, could not be made to respond in damages, because the unseaworthiness of its ship arose after it had been demised under bareboat charter to Pan-Atlantic,1 and (2) Pan-Atlantic

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could not have been held personally liable in damages to petitioner for the unseaworthiness because Pan-Atlantic was petitioner's employer under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act,2 and, while that Act permits actions for damages against third person,3 it provides that compensation liability of an employer under the Act is exclusive, and in place of all other liability on [83 S.Ct. 1350] his part.4

We find it unnecessary to decide whether a ship may ever be held liable for its unseaworthiness where no personal liability could be asserted because, in our view, the Court of Appeals erred in holding that Pan-Atlantic could not be held personally liable for the unseaworthiness of the ship which caused petitioner's injury.

Pan-Atlantic was operating the Yaka as demisee or bareboat charterer from Waterman. Under such arrangements, full possession and control of the vessel are delivered up to the charterer [83 S.Ct. 1352] for a period of time.5 The ship is then directed by its Master and manned by his crew; it makes his voyages and carries the cargo he chooses. Services performed on board the ship are primarily for his benefit. It has long been recognized in the law of admiralty that, for many, if not most, purposes, the bareboat charterer is to be treated as the owner,6 generally called owner pro hac vice. We have no doubt, and indeed Pan-Atlantic admits,7 that, barring explicit statutory exemption, the bareboat charterer is personally liable for

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the unseaworthiness of a chartered vessel,8 and that this liability will support a libel in rem against the vessel.9 Since the unseaworthiness of the Yaka is no longer in dispute, the only question is whether the Longshoremen's Act prevents recovery by petitioner for Pan-Atlantic's breach of its warranty of seaworthiness.

In Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85 (1946), we held that a shipowner's warranty of seaworthiness extended to a longshoreman injured while loading the ship, even though the longshoreman was employed by an independent contractor. In doing so, we noted particularly the hazards of marine service, the helplessness of the men to ward off the perils of unseaworthiness, the harshness of forcing them to shoulder their losses alone, and the broad...

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