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LANDGRAF v. UNITED STATES

August 4, 1947

LANDGRAF
v.
UNITED STATES et al.



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 ...


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