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Lieggi v. Maritime Co.

decided: December 23, 1981.

MARTINO LIEGGI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MARITIME COMPANY OF THE PHILIPPINES, "M/V PHILIPPINE RIZAL," DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Mark A. Costantino, Judge upon jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiff longshoreman against the defendant shipowner in the amount of $43,675, pursuant to § 5b of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. § 905(b) (1976). Affirmed .

Before Newman and Kearse, Circuit Judges, and Daly, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Kearse

Defendant-appellant Maritime Company of the Philippines ("Maritime") appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Mark A. Costantino, Judge, entered on jury verdicts awarding $43,675 in damages to plaintiff-appellee Martino Lieggi for injuries he suffered while working as a longshoreman on the M/V PHILIPPINE RIZAL ("RIZAL"), a ship owned by Maritime. Lieggi charged that his injuries resulted from the negligence of Maritime, which was actionable under § 5(b) of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("LHWCA" or the "Act"), as amended in 1972, 33 U.S.C. § 905(b) (1976). On appeal Maritime challenges the failure of the district judge to grant its motions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) for judgment notwithstanding the verdicts. For the reasons below, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

For the most part, the material facts are not in dispute. On the evening of the accident, July 11, 1973, Lieggi was working as a longshoreman on the RIZAL. He was employed by International Terminal Operating Company, a company hired by Maritime to perform stevedoring operations aboard the ship. Having worked on a different ship during the day, at about 5:00 p.m. Lieggi joined a four-man gang to unload cargo from the RIZAL. The gang's duties involved work on the main deck and the operation of a winch located on a platform above the deck.*fn1 Rotating in performing the two types of work, the men moved back and forth between the main deck and the winch platform, which were connected by a ladder at the aft end of the platform. The platform measured approximately twenty by thirty feet; on the evening of the accident, there was spread out on a substantial portion of this area a greased wire or cable, about 100 feet long and one-fourth inch in diameter. The wire was a topping lift, part of the ship's gear, which had been lubricated periodically with grease by members of the ship's crew. Topping lifts are used in cargo operations, see note 1 supra, and this one had been used earlier in the day by a different gang of longshoremen, who had failed to put it away. On the platform near the wire were four-to-six spots of oil or grease, presumably left by the wire, varying in diameter from five to ten inches.

When Lieggi first joined the RIZAL gang they were using a winch located at the aft end of the platform, i.e., the end near the ladder. When that winch burned out, the gang had to use the winch at the forward end of the platform. To reach the forward winch after climbing the ladder from the deck, one had to cross the platform and pass through the wire and the grease. At about 6:10 p.m., after encountering these obstacles for the first time, Lieggi complained to the "hatch boss," the longshoreman in charge of the gang. The hatch boss then located the ship's mate, and he and the mate went together to inspect the platform. The mate, after seeing the wire and the grease, stated that he would have it cleaned up.*fn2 The hatch boss directed Lieggi to continue working, and the mate, who the jury could have found was still present, said nothing further. The wire and grease were never cleaned up, however, and although Lieggi successfully traversed the platform while there was still daylight, at approximately 11:00 p.m. he tripped and slipped on the wires and the grease, incurring the injuries that are the subject of this lawsuit.*fn3

Separate trials were held on the questions of liability and damages. At the close of the plaintiff's case at the liability trial, Maritime moved to dismiss on the ground that Lieggi had not presented evidence sufficient to support a judgment in his favor. The district court denied this motion, and the jury returned a verdict finding Maritime 90% liable for the accident and Lieggi 10% liable. Maritime moved to set aside the verdict as being contrary to the law and against the weight of the evidence, and sought judgment in its favor notwithstanding the verdict. Its motion was denied. At the subsequent trial of the damages issues, the jury awarded Lieggi $43,675. Maritime moved to set aside this verdict as against the weight of the evidence and excessive. This motion too was denied.

On appeal Maritime argues principally that, as a matter of law, it cannot be held liable for Lieggi's injuries because it was entitled to rely on the stevedore to cure the hazardous conditions that caused the injuries.*fn4 We find no merit in this contention.

Discussion

Prior to 1972, a longshoreman injured in the course of his employment had several bases on which he could recover for his injuries. First, he could receive compensation payments, in accordance with a modest scale, from his employer, the stevedoring company, regardless of the fault of the stevedore. In addition, the longshoreman could bring an action against the owner of the ship and could recover if he could prove that he had been injured either because the owner was negligent or because the ship was unseaworthy. Unseaworthiness could be proven merely by showing that a dangerous condition existed on the ship; no showing of fault on the part of the owner was necessary, and even if the unsafe condition had been created by the stevedore, the shipowner was liable for the longshoreman's injuries.*fn5 See generally Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 101 S. Ct. 1614, 68 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1981).

In 1972, Congress amended the LHWCA, significantly altering the longshoreman's avenues to recovery. See 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950 (1976). Under § 904, a longshoreman injured in the course of his employment still may recover compensation payments from the stevedore regardless of fault, and the scale of those payments has been sharply increased. As against the owner of the vessel, however, § 905(b), which is set forth in pertinent part in the margin,*fn6 provides that the longshoreman may recover only if he can show that his injuries resulted from the owner's negligence.

In amending § 905(b), Congress did not specify what would constitute shipowner negligence, preferring instead to leave its definition to be "resolved through the application of accepted principles of tort law*fn7 and the ordinary process of litigation." S.Rep.No. 92-1125, 92d Cong., 2d Sess. 11 (1972); H.R.Rep.No. 92-1441, 92d Cong., 2d Sess. 7 (1972), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1972, pp. 4698, 4704. Nor did Congress make clear the interrelation between the duty owed the longshoremen by the shipowner, and that owed by the stevedore. In particular, it left unclear exactly what duty the shipowner owes the longshoremen once cargo operations, over which the stevedore generally has primary control, have begun.

The "ordinary process of litigation" has produced considerable disagreement as to the precise contours of shipowner liability under § 905(b), e.g., compare Evans v. Transportacion Maritime Mexicana SS "Campeche", 639 F.2d 848, 855-57 (2d Cir. 1981), and Napoli v. Hellenic Lines, Ltd., 536 F.2d 505, 508-09 (2d Cir. 1976), with Hurst v. Triad Shipping Co., 554 F.2d 1237, 1250-53 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 861, 98 S. Ct. 188, 54 L. Ed. 2d 134 (1977), and Johnson v. A/S Ivarans Rederi, 613 F.2d 334 (1st Cir. 1980), and the Supreme Court has spoken definitively only as to a segment of the vessel owner's liability under that section, see Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, supra. Nevertheless, a few principles have emerged with reasonable clarity. First, the primary responsibility for the safety of the longshoremen rests upon the stevedore:

As a general matter, the shipowner may rely on the stevedore to avoid exposing the longshoremen to unreasonable hazards. Section 41 of the Act, 33 U.S.C. § 941, requires the stevedore, the longshoremen's employer, to provide a "reasonably safe" place to work and to take such safeguards with respect to equipment and working conditions as the Secretary of Labor may determine to be necessary to avoid injury to ...


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