Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Company

Decision Date21 October 1963
Docket NumberNo. 200,200
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 375 U.S. 936, 84 S.Ct. 328.

Clyde W. Woody, for petitioner.

George B. Matthews, for respondent.


Petitioner brought this action in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas against his employer under the Jones Act. 46 U.S.C. § 688. The principal issue was whether, in view of the nature of the work performed at the time of injury, the petitioner was a seaman, hence within the coverage of the Jones Act, or an offshore drilling employee. At the trial before a jury, the District Court admitted evidence, over the objection of petitioner's counsel, that petitioner had accepted compensation bene- fits under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq., as applied through the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq. The latter Act, although extending longshoremen's compensation to a new group, is explicitly inapplicable to a 'member of a crew of any vessel.' 43 U.S.C. § 1333(c)(1). In response to a special interrogatory the jury found that the petitioner was not a seaman or member of a crew of a vessel within the meaning of the Jones Act. Judgment was then entered upon the verdict for the respondent. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously held it error to have admitted the evidence of other compensation benefits but, with one judge dissenting, found the error harmless.1 We grant the petition for a writ of certiorari and vacate the judgment.

We do not agree that on the record in this case the error may be regarded as harmless.2 There can be no doubt that the evidence of other benefits was pressed upon the jury. Throughout the trial respondent's counsel emphasized that the petitioner 'has a remedy under a federal compensation act, and in fact received benefits in the form of weekly payments under that act * * *.' The only argued relevance of this evidence was that it indicated what the petitioner had thought to be his legal status. The judge did not, however, frame a cautionary instruction or otherwise charge the jury that the evidence of other compensation might be considered only insofar as it revealed what the petitioner and others thought his status to be—whether seaman or drilling employee—and was not dispositive of the ultimate fact of whether he was a seaman. To the contrary, the judge's charge, containing an elaborate discussion of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act and a restatement of the disputed evidence, only heightened the likelihood of prejudice.

A subsequent exchange between judge and jury did not, in our opinion, negate the cumulative impact of the evidence and the instructions. The jury, while deliberating, sent the following note to the judge:

'If we find Mr. Tipton is not a seaman or a member of the crew of drilling barge No. 1, does he have recourse for compensation under the Outer Continental Shelf or other act?'

The judge immediately replied:

'This is not a matter for the jury's consideration. You should consider only the questions submitted and the evidence thereon.'

The petitioner contends, correctly we think, that this reply was insufficient to overcome the impact of the evidence of other compensation as submitted to the jury.3 Although the judge's reply excluded from the jury's consideration the availability of alternative benefits in a future action, it did not preclude or restrict consideration of the evidence presented concerning prior receipt of compensation payments. The direction to consider 'the questions submitted' was not illuminating and the further reference to 'the evidence thereon' necessarily encompassed the admitted evidence of payments received and retained by petitioner.

We disagree with the suggestion of the Court of Appeals that the prejudicial effect of the evidence of other compensation would be restricted to the issue of damages and would not affect the determination of liability.4 That suggestion ignores that the evidence was presumably considered without qualification as bearing on a basic fact essential to liability. Indeed, the jury's inquiry to the judge seems to indicate that, under the case as submitted, the jury was led to place undue emphasis on the availability of compensation...

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    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 24, 1976
  • Goldstein v. Gontarz
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • March 20, 1974
    ...from an employer, Shea v. Rettie, 287 Mass. 454, 458, 192 N.E. 44 (1934), or from other sources, Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co. Inc., 375 U.S. 34, 84 S.Ct. 1, 11 L.Ed.2d 4 (1963); Eichel v. New York Cent. R.R., 375 U.S. 253, 84 S.Ct. 316, 11 L.Ed.2d 307 (1963); Helfend v. Southern Cal. Rapi......
  • Barrett v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc., 82-3693
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 31, 1986
    ...Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transportation Co., Inc., 361 U.S. 129, 80 S.Ct. 247, 4 L.Ed.2d 191 (1959) and Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co., Inc., 375 U.S. 34, 84 S.Ct. 1, 11 L.Ed.2d 4, (1963) involve the status issue, but do not discuss what makes an individual a member of a crew.4 The Supreme Cour......
  • Brinegar v. San Ore Construction Company
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas
    • June 25, 1969
    ...such testimony which may well affect the jury's verdict not only on damages, but also on liability. Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co., 375 U.S. 34, 84 S.Ct. 1, 11 L. Ed.2d 4 (1963). See also Eichel v. N.Y. Central Ry. Co., 375 U.S. 253, 84 S.Ct. 316, 11 L.Ed.2d 307 (1963); American Fidelity & ......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Cruz v. Groth: the exceptional collateral source rule remains exception-free in South Dakota.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Law Review Vol. 55 No. 1, March 2010
    • March 22, 2010
    ...so that satisfaction accepted from him shall be a release of others. This is a doctrine well established at common law.... Id. (63.) 375 U.S. 34 (1963). The plaintiff in Tipton, an employee of the defendant oil company, worked on an offshore fixed platform and was injured while performing h......
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    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Deposing & Examining Employment Witnesses
    • March 31, 2022
    ...Eichel v. New York Central R.R. Co. , 375 U.S. 253, 255, 84 S. Ct. 316, 11 L. Ed. 2d 307 (1963), citing Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co ., 375 U.S. 34 (1963). C. Controlling Case Law Precluding Such Evidence The collateral source rule (“CSR”) precludes a reduction or offset of damages based u......

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