Farrell v. United States

Decision Date04 April 1949
Docket NumberNo. 267,267
Citation336 U.S. 511,93 L.Ed. 850,69 S.Ct. 707
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Myron Scott and Silas Blake Axtell, both of New York City, for petitioner .

Mr. Newell A. Clapp, of Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, a seaman, brought suit in admiralty to recover damages under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 688, and maintenance, cure and wages under maritime law. The issue of negligence was decided against him by both courts below and the claim is abandoned here. Petition for certiorari to review other issues was granted. 335 U.S. 869, 69 S.Ct. 165.

I. Maintenance and Cure.

The facts which occasion maintenance and cure for this seaman are not in dispute. The claimant, 22 years of age and in good health, was a member of the Merchant Marine. He was in the service of the S.S. James E. Haviland, a merchant vessel owned and operated by the United States as a cargo and troopship. On February 5, 1944, she was docked at Palermo, Sicily, and Farrell was granted shore leave which required his return to the ship by 6 p.m. of the same day. He overstayed his leave and about eight o'clock began, in rain and darkness, to make his way to the ship. He became lost and was misdirected to the wrong gate, by which he entered the shore-front area about a mile from where the ship lay moored. The area generally was blacked out but petitioner's companion, forty or fifty feet away, saw him fall over a guard chain into a drydock which was lighted sufficiently for night work then in progress. Farrell was grievously injured.

He was treated without expense to himself in various government hospitals until June 30, 1944, when he was discharged at Norfolk, Virginia, as completely disabled. He is totally and permanently blind and suffers post-traumatic convulsions which probably will become more freq ent and are without possibility of further cure. From time to time he will require some medical care to ease attacks of headaches and epilepic convulsions. The court below concluded that the duty of a shipowner to furnish maintenance and cure does not extend beyond the time when the maximum cure possible has been effected. Petitioner contends that he is entitled to maintenance as long as he is disabled, which in this case is for life.

Admittedly there is no authority in any statute or American admiralty decisions for the proposition that he is entitled to maintenance for life. But an argument is based upon the ancient authority of Cleirac, Jugmens d'Oleron, Arts. 6 and 7 and notes by Cleirac; Consolato del Mare, cc. 182, 137; 2 Pard Coll.Mar. 152; to which American authorities have paid considerable respect. See Story, Circuit Justice, in Reed v. Canfield, 20 Fed.Cas. pages 426, 429, No. 11,641. A translation of the note relied upon reads:

'If in defending himself or fighting against an enemy or corsairs, a mariner is maimed, or disabled to serve on board a ship for the rest of his life, besides the charge of his cure, he shall be maintained as long as he lives at the cost of the ship and cargo. Vide the Hanseatic Law, Art. 35.'

Article 35 of the Laws of the Hanse Towns referred to reads:

'Art. XXXV. The seamen are obliged to defend their ship against rovers, on pain of losing their wages; and if they are wounded, they shall be healed and cured at the general charge of the concerned in a common average. If anyone of them is maimed and disabled he shall be maintained as long as he lives by a like average.'

We need not elaborate upon the meanings or weight to be given to these medieval pronouncements of maritime law. As they show, they were written when pirates were not operatic characters but were real-life perils of the sea. When they bore down on a ship, all was lost unless the seaman would hazard life and limb in desperate defense. If they saved the ship and cargo, it was something in the nature of salvage and for their sacrifice in the effort a contribution on principles of average may have been justly due. Perhaps more than humanitarian considerations, inducement to stand by the ship generated the doctrine that saving the ship and her cargo from pirates entitles the seaman to lifelong maintenance if he is disabled in the struggle.

But construe the old-time law with what liberality we will, it cannot be made to cover the facts of this case. This ship was not beset but was snug at berth in a harbor that had capitulated to the United States and her allied forces six months before. No sea rovers, pirates or corsairs appeared to have menaced her. It is true that the ship was engaged in warlike operations and was a legitimate target for enemy aircraft or naval vessels, which made her service a war risk, but at that time and place no enemy attack was in progress or imminent. Even if we pass all this and assume the ship always to have been in potential danger and in need of defense, this seaman at the time of his injury had taken leave of her and he is in no position to claim that he was a sacrifice to her salvation. Far from helping to man the ship at the moment, he was unable to find her; he was lost ashore and not able adequately to take care of himself. However patriotic his motive in enlisting in the service and however ready he may have been to risk himself for his country, we can find no rational basis for awarding lifetime maintenance against the ship on the theory that he was wounded or maimed while defending her against enemies.

It is claimed, however, even if the basis for a lifetime award does not exist, that he is entitled to maintenance and cure beyond the period allowed by the courts below. This is based largely upon statements in the opinion of the Court in Calmar Steamship Corp. v. Taylor, 303 U.S. 525, 58 S.Ct. 651, 654, 82 L.Ed. 993. There the question as stated by the Court was whether the duty of a shipowner to rovide maintenance and cure for a seaman falling ill of an incurable disease while in its employ, extends to the payment of a lump-sum award sufficient to defray the cost of maintenance and cure for the remainder of his life. The Court laid aside cases where incapacity is caused by the employment and said, 'We can find no basis for saying that, if the disease proves to be incurable, the duty extends beyond a fair time after the voyage in which to effect such improvement in the seaman's condition as reasonably may be expected to result from nursing, care, and medical treatment. This would satisfy such demands of policy as underlie the imposition of the obligation. Beyond this we think there is no duty, at least where the illness is not caused by the seaman's service.'

It is claimed that when the Court reserved or disclaimed any judgment as to cases where the incapacity is caused 'by the employment' or 'by the seaman's service' it recognized or created such cases as a separate class for a different measure of maintenance and cure. We think no such distinction exists or was premised in the Calmar case. In Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, 318 U.S. 724, 63 S.Ct. 930, 932, 87 L.Ed. 1107, the Court pointed out that logically and historically the duty of maintenance and cure derives from a seaman's dependence on his ship, not from his individual deserts, and arises from his disability, not from anyone's fault. We there refused to look to the personal nature of the seaman's activity at the moment of injury to determine his right to award. Aside from gross misconduct or insubordination, what the seaman is doing and why the how he sustains injury does not affect his right to maintenance and cure, however decisive it may be as to claims for indemnity or for damages for negligence. He must, of course, at the time be 'in the service of the ship,' by which is meant that he must be generally answerable to its call to duty rather than actually in performance of routine tasks or specific orders.

It has been the merit of the seaman's right to maintenance and cure that it is go inclusive as to be relatively simple, and can be understood and administered without technical considerations. It has few exceptions or conditions to stir contentions, cause delays, and invite litigation. The seaman could forfeit the right only be conduct, whose wrongful quality even simple men of the calling would recognize—insubordination, disobedience to orders, and gross misconduct. On the other hand, the Master knew he must maintain and care for even the erring and careless seaman, much as a parent would a child. For any purpose to introduce a graduation of rights and duties based on some relative proximity of the activity at time of injury to the 'employment' or the 'service of the ship,' would alter the basis and be out of harmony with the spirit and function of the doctrine and would open the door to the litigiousness which has made the landman's remedy so often a promise to the ear to be broken to the hope.

Nor is it at all clear to us what this particular litigant could gain from introduction of the distinction for which contention is made. It we should concede that larger measure of maintenance is due those whose injury is caused by the nature of their employment, it would seem farfetched to hold it applicable here. Claimant was disobedient to his orders and for his personal purposes overstayed his shore leave. His fall into a drydock that was sufficiently lighted for workmen to be carrying on repairs to a ship therein was due to no negligence but his own. These matters have not been invoked to forfeit or reduce his usual seaman's right, but it is difficult to see how such circumstances would warrant enlargement of it. We hold that he is entitled to the usual measure of maintenance and cure at the ship's expense, no less and no more, and turn to ascertainment of its bounds.

The law of the sea is in a peculiar sense an international law, but application of its § ecific rules depends upon acceptance by the United...

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