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Taliercio v. Argentina

May 3, 1985

VITO TALIERCIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE CROSS-APPELLANT
v.
COMPANIA EMPRESSA LINEAS ARGENTINA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT CROSS-APPELLEE



Appeal from a judgment of the Southern District of New York (Stewart, J.) awarding the plaintiff damages for injuries sustained while working as a longshoreman on the defendant's ship. Cross-appeal challenging the district court's computation of prejudgment interest.

Kaufman, Cardamone, Circuit Judges, and Tenney, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Tenney

TENNEY, District Judge.

The defendant, Compania Empressa Lineas Argentina ("ELMA"), appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Charles Stewart, District Judge, awarding the plaintiff $665,846 in damages for personal injuries, together with prejudgment interest of $21,942. The plaintiff, a longshoreman, was injured while working on the defendant's ship.

On appeal, the defendant contends that the district court's determination of liability is clearly erroneous. On cross-appeal, the plaintiff claims that the district court's computation of prejudgment interest was incorrect. For the reasons stated briefly below, we affirm the district court's decision in all respects.

BACKGROUND

After a bench trial, the plaintiff, Vito Taliercio ("Taliercio"), was awarded damages for injuries he sustained while working on the defendant's ship in 1979.*fn1 The plaintiff was injured when a sliding steel door fell on him. The door was approximately three feet wide and eight feet high. It weighed 1100 pounds. The door was one of two sliding doors that had been unlocked and opened by the ship's crew so that cargo could be deposited in the ship's locker.

Taliercio accidently struck one of the sliding doors while he was driving a hi-lo. A hi-lo is similar to a forklift. Because Taliercio could not free the hi-lo from the door, he got off of the hi-lo. Another longshoreman, who took Taliercio's place on the hi-lo, managed to free the hi-lo within a few minutes. After the hi-lo was freed, the sliding door fell off its track and toppled onto Taliercio, injuring him.

The district court found that both the plaintiff and defendant were negligent, and apportioned liability accordingly. The court held that the defendant was 80% responsible for the plaintiff's injuries. On appeal the defendant argues that the plaintiff was solely responsible for his own injuries and that the district court erred in finding the defendant liable.

Discussion

I. Liability

The district court's conclusion that the defendant was negligent is fully supported by the evidence. The defendant-shipowner had a duty to inspect, maintain and repair the steel door that fell. The door was in poor condition and therefore posed an unreasonable risk of harm. If the door had been in good condition, it would not have fallen when the plaintiff ran into it. The defendant knew or should have known that the door needed repair, and by failing to repair the door, defendant breached its duty of care. Thus, the shipowner was clearly at fault.

The applicable law, which is not in dispute here, can be summarized briefly. When a shipowner employs longshoremen, the shipowner must exercise due care in order to avoid exposing the longshoremen to injury from equipment that is under the shipowner's control. See Scindia Steam Nav. Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 167, 68 L. Ed. 2d 1, 101 S. Ct. 1614 (1981). The shipowner has a duty to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition. Doca v. Marina Mercante Nicaraguense, S.A., 634 F.2d 30, 33 (2d Cir. 1980), cert. denied sub nom. Pittston Stevedoring Corp. v. Doca, 451 U.S. 971, 68 L. Ed. 2d 351, 101 S. Ct. 2049 (1981), (citing W. Prosser, Handbook on the Law of Torts, § 61 (4th ed. 1971); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343). A shipowner will be held liable "for injuries resulting from obvious dangers which it should reasonably anticipate that the longshoremen would be unable to avoid." Napoli v. Hellenic Lines, Ltd., 536 F.2d 505, 509 (2d Cir. 1976).

The question of whether or not a shipowner has acted negligently is a question of fact. See Lieggi v. Maritime Co. of the Philippines, "M/V Philippine Rizal", 667 F.2d 324, 328 (2d Cir. 1981); Napoli, 536 F.2d at 509. In the instant case, the trial court's ...


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