WE Hedger Transp. Corp. v. United Fruit Co.

Decision Date15 July 1952
Docket NumberNo. 247,Docket 22221.,247
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Nathan, Mannheimer, Asche & Winer, New York City, A. J. Asche, New York City, of counsel, for appellant.

Burlingham, Veeder, Clark & Hupper, New York City, Chauncey I. Clark, Benjamin E. Haller and Curran C. Tiffany, New York City, of counsel, for appellee.

Before SWAN, Chief Judge, and CHASE and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

SWAN, Chief Judge.

This appeal presents an interesting question, namely, the effect of contributory negligence when the plaintiff elects to bring suit for a maritime tort on the law side of a federal district court. Is the admiralty rule of division of damages to be applied or does the common law rule of contributory negligence bar any recovery? Subsidiary questions concern instructions given the jury and the denial of a motion made by each party for a directed verdict.

The issues of negligence and contributory negligence were sharply contested. On behalf of the plaintiff there was evidence that its barge was in seaworthy condition when placed alongside the steamship Atenas, lying at Pier 9, North River, on December 19, 1945; that during that day and the next sand ballast from the steamer was loaded into the barge by defendant's stevedores in so negligent a manner as to cause the barge to develop a visible twist and leaks which grew progressively worse; that on the afternoon of December 20, the barge was taken in tow by plaintiff's tug and was delivered the following day at Columbia Street, Brooklyn, where on the night of December 24th, in spite of plaintiff's efforts to save her after her arrival in Brooklyn, she sank and became a total loss. The defendant gave evidence that the barge was not in seaworthy condition on December 19th, and the sand ballast was loaded in a proper manner, and contended that the leaks she developed during the loading resulted from her own inherent defects, and the sinking four days later from plaintiff's failure to take proper care of her after the loading was completed. Each party moved for a directed verdict. Both motions were denied and the issues were submitted to the jury in a charge which placed on the plaintiff the burden of proving freedom from contributory negligence. By special verdict the jury found (1) that plaintiff had sustained damage proximately caused by defendant's negligence; (2) that plaintiff's negligence contributed to this damage, and that the amount of the damage was $7,200. Plaintiff moved for judgment in the sum of $3,600 and defendant moved for dismissal of the complaint. Defendant's motion was granted. Before entry of judgment plaintiff moved for a new trial on the ground that the charge to the jury putting upon plaintiff the burden of proving freedom from contributory negligence was incorrect. This was denied without opinion.

Before the necessity arises to decide the interesting question first above stated, we must pass upon the subsidiary questions raised by the respective motions for a directed verdict. Without reciting in detail the evidence upon which each party relies in contending that its motion should have been granted, it will suffice to say that we entertain no doubt that the proximate cause of the sinking was a question for the jury to determine. Evidence that the barge was not twisted when delivered alongside the vessel, that she was twisted when taken away on December 20th, that water coming in through leaks cannot itself cause a twist, no matter how old the boat, but improper loading can twist even a new boat made a prima facie case for the plaintiff. But even if the twist were caused by the defendant's negligence in the way it loaded the barge, the plaintiff was required to supply a reasonably sound barge and to exercise ordinary care and prudence to prevent the sinking four days later.1 Whether it failed to do so and whether such failure contributed to cause the sinking were likewise jury questions upon the evidence presented. Hence the special verdict that the negligence of both parties contributed to the damage sustained by the plaintiff must be accepted.

In Belden v. Chase, 150 U.S. 674, 14 S.Ct. 264, 37 L.Ed. 1218, which was an action at law in a state court involving a collision between two vessels in the Hudson River, the court declared at page 691 of 150 U.S., at page 269 of 14 S.Ct., 37 L.Ed. 1218:

"In order to maintain his action, the plaintiff was obliged to establish the negligence of the defendant, and that such negligence was the sole cause of the injury, or, in other words, he could not recover, though defendant were negligent, if it appeared that his own negligence directly contributed to the result complained of."

In Johnson v. United States Shipping Board Emergency F. Corp., 2 Cir., 24 F.2d 963, involving a maritime tort, we relied upon Belden v. Chase in sustaining an instruction that the plaintiff could not recover if guilty of contributory negligence.2 In the case of In re Pennsylvania R. Co., 2 Cir., 48 F.2d 559, 566, a suit in admiralty to limit liability, we acknowledged the rule to be an anomaly, but we recognized it to be still authoritative, when we said in Guerrini v. United States, 2 Cir., 167 F.2d 352 at 355:

"* * * Moreover, whether the defense is total or partial, depends upon the forum."3

Although the district judge recognized as quite persuasive the plaintiff's contention that the rule announced in Belden v. Chase had been tacitly overruled by later decisions, he felt that the question was foreclosed for him by our dictum in the Guerrini case.

In our opinion that dictum is erroneous. The Guerrini case did not involve the question whether contributory negligence is a total or a partial defense in a suit arising out of a maritime tort, and the sentence above quoted was thrown out without consideration of decisions of the Supreme Court subsequent to Belden v. Chase. Chief among these is Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 63 S.Ct. 246, 87 L. Ed. 239, where the court, after noting that "Contributory negligence is not a barrier to a proceeding in admiralty or under the Jones Act 46 U.S.C.A. § 688, and the state courts are required to apply this rule in Jones Act actions", adverted expressly to Belden v. Chase, saying at page 244 of 317 U.S., at page 250 of 63 S.Ct., 87 L.Ed. 239:

"In many other cases this Court has declared the necessary dominance of admiralty principles in actions in vindication of rights arising from admiralty law. Belden v. Chase, 150 U.S. 674, 14 S.Ct. 264, 37 L.Ed. 1218, an 1893 decision which respondent relies upon as establishing a contrary rule, has never been thus considered in any of the later cases cited."

And in Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, at page 88, 66 S.Ct. 872, 874, 90 L.Ed. 1099, the court cited the Garrett case and Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger, 259 U.S. 255, 259, 42 S.Ct. 475, 66 L.Ed. 927, as...

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    • August 7, 1956
    ...announced his direction to enter judgment for the defendant shipyard. On plaintiff tug owner's motion for new trial, Hedger Transportation Corp. v. United Fruit Co., supra, and the interment of Belden v. Chase, supra, was pressed heavily to secure a judgment for half damages under the usual......
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    • June 10, 1957
    ...after a motion to dismiss for insufficiency of proof had been argued and denied (3562, 3629-3630). Cf. W. E. Hedger Transp. Corp. v. United Fruit Co., 2 Cir., 1952, 198 F.2d 376, certiorari denied 1952, 344 U.S. 896, 73 S.Ct. 275, 97 L.Ed. 692; Pope & Talbot, Inc. v. Hawn, 1953, 346 U.S. 40......
  • Greene v. Vantage Steamship Corporation
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • August 29, 1972
    ...is that the defense of contributory negligence must be affirmatively pleaded and proved by the defendant." W. E. Hedger Transp. Corp. v. United Fruit Co., 198 F.2d 376, 379 (2 Cir.) cert. denied 344 U.S. 896, 73 S.Ct. 275, 97 L.Ed. 692 (1952). Vantage offered no evidence to show that the de......
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