Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co of New Jersey Waterman Corporation v. Jones

Decision Date19 April 1943
Docket Number582,Nos. 454,s. 454
Citation63 S.Ct. 930,87 L.Ed. 1107,318 U.S. 724
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. George J. Engelman, of New York City, for petitioner aguilar.

Mr. Walter X. Connor, of New York City, for respondent Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey.

Mr. Joseph W. Henderson, of Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner Waterman S.S. Corp.

Mr. Abraham E. Freedman, of Philadelphia, Pa., for respondent Jones.

Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by these cases is whether a shipowner is liable for wages and maintenance and cure to a seaman who, having left his vessel on authorized shore leave, is injured while traversing the only available route between the moored ship and a public street. The injury in No. 582 occurred while the seaman was departing for his leave. That in No. 454 occurred while he was returning.

The complaint in No. 582 discloses that the plaintiff, respondent here, was a messman on the Steamship Beauregard, owned by defendant. On January 16, 1941, the vessel, which apparently was engaged in the coastwise trade between New Orleans and East Coast and Gulf ports, was moored to Pier C, Port Richmond, Philadelphia. At about 6 p.m. plaintiff left the ship on shore leave. As he was proceeding through the pier toward the street all the lights were extinguished. In the ensuing darkness he fell into an open ditch at a railroad siding. This caused injuries which required treatment and prevented him from resuming his usual duties. This action followed, for maintenance and cure and wages. On defendant's motion the District Court dismissed the complaint. The ground assigned was that at the time of his injury plaintiff was not ashore on the ship's business. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, 130 F.2d 797, holding that on the facts stated in the complaint defendant was liable for maintenance and cure and wages.

The stipulation of facts in No. 454 discloses that on April 18, 1938, the defendant's vessel, the Steamship E. M. Clark, was lying docked at the premises of the Mexican Petroleum Company, in Carteret, New Jersey, which defendant neither owned, operated nor controlled. Petitioner, a member of the crew, obtained permission from the master and went ashore on his own personal business. In order to reach the vessel on returning from shore leave, he had to pass through the premises of the Mexican Petroleum Company. After he had gone through the entrance gate and while he was walking on the roadway of those premises about a half mile from the ship, he was struck and injured by a motor vehicle which was neither owned, operated nor controlled by the defendant. Petitioner brought this action to recover $10,000, the expense of his maintenance and cure for the injuries so incurred. The District Court dismissed the complaint and on appeal the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 130 F.2d 154. Both courts acted on the ground that in going ashore on personal business the plaintiff left the service of the ship and therefore no liability for maintenance and cure attached.

The cases were brought here to resolve the conflict thus presented on an important question of maritime law.

All admit the shipowner is liable if the injury occurs while the seaman is 'in the service of the ship,' and the issue is cast in these ambiguous terms, the parties giving different meanings to the ancient phrase.

The claimants say it includes the whole period of service covered by the seaman's articles; and, if he is injured during this time, the right is made out, unless it is shown by way of defense he has forfeited it by misconduct causing the injury. Since the injuries here took place during the period and there was admittedly no misconduct, it is said the claims are established. Corollaries of this view are that recovery is not conditioned on showing the injury was received while the seaman was at work or doing some errand for the employer and that going ashore with leave or returning from it is part of being 'in the service of the ship,' whether or not it was to perform such an errand.

The shipowners regard the phrase more narrowly. In their view it requires the seaman to be injured, if ashore while he is 'on duty' or at work, doing some task connected with the vessel's business. Going ashore simply for diversion and relief from its routine and discipline or for any matter personal to the seaman takes him out of the service of the ship; and the departure is made the moment he steps off deck and onto the dock or pier, perhaps as he descends the gangplank or ladder. Cf. The President Coolidge, D.C., 23 F.Supp. 575. Likewise return is not made until he is on board again. Cf. Lilly v. United States Lines Co., D.C., 42 F.Supp. 214. In this view it is of no moment whether the injury results from the seaman's fault or misconduct or from causes entirely beyond his control.

It will aid in determining the scope of the liability to consider its origin and nature.

From the earliest times maritime nations have recognized that unique hazards, emphasized by unusual tenure and control, attend the work of seamen. The physical risks created by natural elements and the limitations of human adaptability to work at sea enlarge the narrower and more strictly occupational hazards of sailing and operating vessels. And the restrictions which accompany living aboard ship for long periods at a time combine with the constant shuttling between unfamiliar ports to deprive the seaman of the comforts and opportunities for leisure, essential for living and working,1 that accompany most land occupations. Furthermore, the seaman's unusual subjection to authority adds the weight of what would be involuntary servitude for others to these extraordinary hazards and limitations of ship life.

Accordingly, with the combined object of encouraging marine commerce and assuring the well-being of seamen, maritime nations uniformly have imposed broad responsibilities for their health and safety upon the owners of ships. 2 In this country these notions were reflected early, and have since been expanded, in legislation designed to secure the comfort and health of seamen aboard ship,3 hos- pitalization at home4 and care abroad.5 The statutes are uniform in evincing solicitude that the seaman shall have at hand the barest essentials for existence. They do this in two ways. One is by recognizing the shipowner's duty to supply them, the other by providing for care at public expense. The former do not create the duty. That existed long before the statutes were adopted. They merely recognize the preexisting obligation and put specific legal sanctions, generally criminal, behind it. Compare Harden v. Gordon, C.C., 11 Fed.Cas. page 480, No. 6,047, 2 Mason 541; The George, C.C., 10 Fed.Cas. page 205, No. 5,329, 1 Sumn. 151; The Forest, D.C., 9 Fed.Cas. page 443, No. 4,936, 1 Ware 429. The provisions for public assistance were not intended to relieve the shipowner of his duty. On the contrary their purpose was to make sure the seaman would have care, if the employer should fail to give it and in the rarer cases to which his obligation does not extend. The legislation therefore gives no ground for making inferences adverse to the seaman or restrictive of his rights. Cf. Reed v. Canfield, C.C., 20 Fed.Cas. page 426, No. 11,641, 1 Sumn. 195. Rather it furnishes the strongest basis for regarding them broadly, when an issue concerning their scope arises, and particularly when it relates to the general character of relief the legislation was intended to secure.

Among the most pervasive incidents of the responsibility anciently imposed upon a shipowner for the health and security of sailors was liability for the maintenance and cure of seamen becoming ill or injured during the period of their service.6 In the United States this obligation has been recognized consistently as an implied provision in contracts of marine employment.7 Created thus with the contract of employment, the liability, unlike that for indemnity or that later created by the Jones Act,8 in no sense is predicated on the fault or negligence of the shipowner. Whether by traditional standards he is or is not responsible for the injury or sickness, he is liable for the expense of curing it as an incident of the marine employer-employee relationship.9 So broad is the shipowner's obliga- tion that negligence or acts short of culpable misconduct on the seaman's part will not relieve him of the responsibility. Peterson v. The Chandos, D.C., 4 F. 645; see also The J. F. Card, D.C., 43 F. 92; The Ben Flint, D.C., 3 Fed. Cas. page 183, No. 1,299, 1 Abb.U.S. 126. Conceptions of contributory negligence, the fellow-servant doctrine, and assumption of risk have no place in the liability or defense against it. Only some wilful misbehavior or deliberate act of indiscretion suffices to deprive the seaman of his protection. The Ben Flint, supra. The traditional instances are veneral disease10 and injuries received as a result of intoxication,11 though on occasion the latter has been qualified in recognition of a classic predisposition of sailors ashore.12 Other recent cases however disclose a tendency to expand these traditional exceptions.13

Consistently with the basic premises of the liability, it was early suggested that the risks which it covered were not only those arising in the actual performance of the seaman's duties. Reed v. Canfield, C.C., 20 Fed.Cas. page 426, No. 11,641, 1 Sumn. 195; Ringgold v. Crocker, D.C., 20 Fed.Cas., page 813, No. 11,843, 1 Abb.Adm. 344. Unlike men employed in service on land, the seaman, when he finishes his day's work, is neither relieved of obligations to his em- ployer nor wholly free to dispose of his leisure as he sees fit. Of necessity, during the voyage he must eat, drink, lodge and divert himself within the confines of the ship. In short,...

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    ...shore leave is in the service of his vessel for the purpose of his right to maintenance and cure (Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 63 S.Ct. 930, 87 L.Ed. 1107 (1943)), and such right can be defeated only by a showing that the seaman was guilty of "some positively vicious conduct--......
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