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August 4, 1947


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GANEY

This is a suit brought by a longshoreman pursuant to the Suits in Admiralty Act *fn1" to recover damages for injuries sustained by him while he was employed on a merchant vessel owned by the United States.

From the evidence presented to it, the court makes the following special

 Findings of Facts:

 1. The libellant is John W. Landgraf, a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the respondent is the United States of America, and the impleaded respondent is the Independent Pier Company, as independent stevedoring concern.

 2. On December 7, 1944, the Steamship Harry Lane (PH-379), a merchant vessel owned by the respondent through the War Shipping Administration, was moored at the Hog Island Ammunition Pier in the Delaware River, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within the territorial limits of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

 3. Because of the dangers attending the loading of vessels with ammunition, the United States Army and the United States Coast Guard maintained general supervision and control of the Hog Island Ammunition Pier and the loading of vessels adjacent thereto.

 4. On December 7, 1944, libellant then thirty-four years of age, was working as a carpenter on the S.S. Harry Lane as an employee of the Independent Pier Company, which was engaged to load the vessel with ammunition pursuant to the provisions of a contract entered into between the respondent and the Company on July 1, 1944, and effective until June 30, 1945. Article XXIII(a) of the contract provided:

 'While performing the work, the stevedores shall * * * be responsible for any and all loss, damage or injury * * * to persons, cargo, vessels, or other property or thing, arising through the negligence or fault of the stevedore, its employees, gear or equipment; provided, however, * * * that the stevedore shall not be responsible to the Government for any such loss, damage or injury resulting from the negligence or wrongful acts of the Government or from acts of the stevedore or its employees performed in compliance with the specific directions of the Contracting Officer or from the fault of ships or other gear supplied by the Government.'

 5. Libellant, the foreman of a group of carpenters, was charged with storing and chocking boxes of ammunition as they were lowered into the hold of the vessel by the stevedores, who were also the employees of the Independent Pier Company. The libellant had no supervision over or any connection with the operation, maintenance and inspection of the vessel's loading gear and tackle; nor was he responsible for, or in any way connected with, the removal or inspection of the vessel's hatch beams and their locks.

 6. The No. 2 hatch of the S.S. Harry Lane was approximately thirty-one and one half feet long and eighteen feet wide, and was surrounded by a thirty inch high coaming.

 7. The cover of the No. 2 hatch consisted of seven sections of boards supported by six removable steel hatch beams, eighteen feet long which ran athwart the hatch opening at intervals of four and one-half feet. Each beam fitted into vertical grooves and rested upon horizontal supports which were fastened to the inside of the hatch coaming. Each beam, except as found in Finding of Fact No. 13, was equipped with beam locks at the ends of the beam. These locks were intended to prevent the upward movement of the beam.

 8. A beam lock consisted of an oblong piece of metal approximately four inches long, two inches wide and three quarters of an inch thick, which could be rotated, like a cam, on a bolt that pierced the reinforced end of the hatch beam. The long end of the oblong piece of metal fitted into a ninety degree notch in a portion of the extended groove similar to a pawl in a stationary ratchet wheel. When the oblong piece of metal was engaged, the beam could not be removed from the groove. In order to disengage the lock, the oblong piece of metal would have to be rotated out of the ninety degree notch.

 9. When the hatch beams were not removed from the hatch, the respondent required them to be locked securely in their coaming grooves in order to eliminate the possibility of their being dislodged and falling into the hold of the vessel.

 10. At about 1:00 o'clock on December 7, 1944, the stevedores, in preparing for the loading activities on the S.S. Harry Lane, removed three sections of boards and the No. 1 and No. 2 hatch beams (those nearest the bow) of the No. 2 hatch, thereby leaving an opening of approximately eighteen feet athwartship and thirteen and one half feet long.

 11. The stevedores, by removing only the No. 1 and No. 2 hatch beams, left the smallest opening possible which would permit the freely passing through of a circular steel cargo tray approximately six feet in diameter. This procedure, in addition to saving time at a period when time was of the essence, was in accord with the usual practice in opening hatches during the war, and pursuant to instructions issued, for safety and security reasons, by the War Department.

 12. At about 1:15 o'clock, while the libellant was working in the 'tween deck section of the No. 2 hold, the stevedores were in the process of removing a manila rope net sling which was in the 'tween deck section approximately eight feet beneath the No. 3 and No. 4 hatch beams. The top of the boom (capacity of five tons), to which was rigged the midship or up and down fall (three quarters of an inch in diameter), was over the center of the hatch opening. The starboard winch which controlled the up and down fall, had a lifting capacity of fifty tons. The hook which was attached at the end of the fall was lowered into the hold, pulled aft under the No. 3 and No. 4 hatch beams and hooked onto the manila rope net sling, which had not been completely emptied of its chocks. As it was slowly raised to remove the net from the hold, the fall rubbed against the edge of the No. 3 hatch beam until the protruding eye of the screw of the shackle (shaped in the form of an inverted letter 'U') caught under the edge of the No. 3 hatch beam and lifted the beam from its grooves in the coaming. The beams and the boards which it supported fell into the hold and struck the libellant on the head and back, seriously injuring him and rendering him unconscious.

 13. The No. 3 hatch beam was unseaworthy, because at the time it was dislodged from its grooves in the coaming, a beam lock at one end of it was missing. The libellant was not aware of this fact nor would he, by using due care under the circumstances, be expected to have observed this defect.

 14. However, reasonable inspection of the hatch beam by the respondent would have disclosed that the beam lock was missing.

 15. The manner in which the stevedores attempted to remove the rope net sling from the 'tween deck section of the vessel was negligent.

 16. The negligence of the stevedores was not a superseding cause of, but, together with the unseaworthiness of the beam, contributed to the falling of the hatch beam and boards into the hold of the vessel.

 17. Libellant was removed to St. Agnes' Hospital where he was found to have sustained a compound compression fracture of the right upper anterior and middle parietal region of his skull, lacerations of the brain, brain hemorrhage, and fractures of the first to fourth transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae on his right side.

 18. Libellant was hospitalized from December 7, 1944, to January 17, 1945, during which time he received surgical treatment, which included removal of a large piece of his skull, removal of numerous pieces of bone fragments from his brain, and a removal of a blood clot in the vicinity of his right lumbar muscles.

 19. For several months after January 17, 1945, libellant had received medical treatment at the private offices of several physicians.

 20. At the time of the trial, the libellant had an extensive lesion of the right parietal lobe of his brain, a depressed scar on his skull approximately three inches long and three quarters of an inch wide and deep where the skull had been fractured. As a result of the injury to his brain, the libellant suffers from headaches, dizziness, somnolence, and astereognosis (loss of ability to recognize the shapes of objects by handling them) of the left hand. He also experiences sensory Jacksonian epileptic fits due to the irritation to his brain by the scar tissue and other changes within his brain.

 21. The injuries sustained by the libellant have permanently incapacitated him from performing in the future the work of a carpenter in the same manner as he did prior to his sustaining the injuries, and from performing work requiring skilled action of both hands. However, he will be able to become gainfully employed, but his earning power has and will be decreased approximately forty percent. 22. The damages sustained by the libellant are as follows: (a) Loss of earnings to date of trial $ 6,333.02 (b) Present value of loss of future earnings reduced by capitalization at three percent 34,920.00 (c) Pain and suffering, past, present, and future 12,000.00 Total $ 53,253.02 Conclusions of Law.


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