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SULOVITZ v. UNITED STATES

November 16, 1945

SULOVITZ
v.
UNITED STATES et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WELSH

This suit was brought to recover damages for injuries sustained by the libellant while working aboard the Liberty Ship, William Aspinwall.

Findings of Fact

 1. The Libellant was employed as a carpenter by the Philadelphia Ship Supply & Lumber Company and on April 14, 1944, was erecting an ammunition magazine on the tweendecks of the Aspinwall near the Number 5 hatch. At the same time cargo was being loaded through the hatch by the Atlantic and Gulf Stevedores, Inc., under contract with the United States as the owner of the vessel.

 2. The stevedores were lowering a cased gun through the hatch when a link in the loading gear parted, causing the case to strike a partition and scaffolding then being erected by the carpenters and causing timbers to fall upon the Libellant and injure him.

 3. The loading gear at Number 5 hatch consisted of two booms, two winches, and the necessary cables, gin blocks and loading hooks, which gear had a safe capacity of 5 tons. The gear had been inspected by visual examination on April 10 and 11, at which time no defect was discovered. Its capacity was known to the ship officers and the superintendent of the stevedores engaged in the loading.

 4. It is customary during loading operations for a mate of the vessel to be on duty to look after the interests of the ship and see that it and its cargo gear are not damaged by undue overloading or other abuse. Specific instructions to that effect had been given by the Captain to the Second Mate who was then in charge of the deck. Such duty is usually performed by making frequent journeys about the ship for the purpose of observation.

 5. The case which fell while being loaded was 173' x 74' x 72' and weighed 12,150 pounds the weight being marked upon the case. It was being loaded by means of two double fall lines, one running from the starboard winch over the boom heads and down to the load and the other from the port winch to the wharf shed and thence down to the load, with gin blocks at the bottom of each fall. The gin blocks were shackled together, and there was attached to them by means of shackles the swivel chain and cargo hook. The swivel consisted of two elliptical chain links with one end of each flattened perpendicular to its length and with holes extending through the link metal. They are attached together by means of a pin extending thru the holes and riveted. One of the links was fastened to the eye of the cargo hook. The chain pendant cargo hook offered as an exhibit was not the hook being used at the time of the accident.

 6. Although the testimony was conflicting as to the arrangement of the gear used, we find, from the evidence and the diagrams submitted and explained, that the cased gun was lifted and lowered by means of two wire cables looped around the case at each end. One loop was fastened by a shackle to one of the gin blocks and the other to the hook and swivel links which were fastened to the shackles connecting the two gin blocks. By such means the weight of the lift was distributed between the gin block to which one loop was fastened, and the hook and swivel to which the other loop was fastened, so that only a portion of the whole weight was suspended on the swivel links and cargo hook at the time the link parted.

 7. When the cased gun was suspended by such means and was being lowered through the hatch, the upper link of the chain swivel parted, permitting the load to fall. The link which broke was defective in that the weld or joint of the link was not complete. Only a fraction of the diameter of the link metal had been successfully joined and the unjoined surface areas were found to be rusty.

 8. As a result of the accident the Libellant suffered a partial fracture of the ilium extending to the sacroiliac joint and comminuted fracture of the great trochanter of the left leg. These injuries have been cured except for minor displacement of segments which causes slight limitation of motion and pain upon bending, kneeling and in certain positions while reclining. The Libellant is 63 years of age and his expectancy is 12.26 years. As a result of the injuries he was confined to the hospital for 17 days and to his bed for 4 weeks thereafter. He was unable to work until the latter part of November, 1944, when he worked 2 1/2 weeks. Thereafter he worked during two short periods of 3 or 4 days each, between that time and the date of the trial. His earnings during said period were $ 537.30.

 9. The Libellant suffered severe pain as a result of the injuries and at present suffers pain upon kneeling, bending and at times while lying in certain positions in bed. He is at present able to work only 3 or 4 days a week, and he is unable to do the heavy work incident to his trade.

 10. The established rate of pay for carpenters is $ 1.58 per hour for a 40-hour week, with time and one-half for overtime. Prior to the accident he had been working 48 hours per week.

 11. The Libellant's hospital bill was $ 116. He has received additional medical treatment through the clinical services of the Respondent's insurance carrier.

 The defect in the swivel link rendered the vessel unseaworthy with respect to the cargo-loading gear, and the accident was directly attributable to that defect. Such unseaworthiness rendered the vessel and its owner liable for the injury sustained. In reaching this conclusion, we follow Sieracki v. Seas Shipping Co., Inc., et al., 3 Cir., 149 F.2d 98, 101. In that case, as here, the issue was whether a longshoreman, who had been injured by a like unseaworthiness of cargo gear, was entitled to the same protection as a seaman. The Circuit Court there held that the legal liability of a vessel owner toward ...


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