United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
May 24, 1952
ACADIA OVERSEAS FREIGHTERS, LIMITED. THE VICTORIA COUNTY.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McGRANERY, District Judge.
The libel will be dismissed. The Court sets out herewith its
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. One vital issue will
first be briefly explored, however. Libellant urges that his
uncontroverted evidence was that he had not brought aboard
the vessel the ladder that injured his thumb; that no
fellow-employee brought it aboard; and that no such appliance was
upon any vehicle used by the stevedore in moving his men and
equipment to and from the ship, at any time while libellant was
on the vessel. From this evidence we are asked to presume that
the extension ladder in question belonged to the vessel or
constituted part of its equipment. Such an inference would be
improper. It would constitute an unwarranted extension of the
doctrine of Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 1946, 328 U.S. 85, 66
S.Ct. 872, 90 L.Ed. 1099, which held that the traditional
absolute obligation of sea-worthiness owed by the owner of the
vessel covered stevedores as well as seamen. The owner, with
respect to the stevedore, was made an insurer of the vessel's
appliances. To indulge in the presumption contended for by the
libellant would make the owner the insurer of any appliance found
on board, the origin of which the injured party was not prepared
to show except to state that he had not put it there. We would
not be justified in so broadening the Sieracki rule. We think
that it is the libellant's duty to prove the origin of the
offending appliance as an element of his case.
Findings of Fact.
1. The respondent corporation, organized under the laws of
Canada, operated and controlled Steamship "Victoria County" at
all times material to this action.
2. During the month of December, 1948, the vessel while at the
port of Philadelphia required the services of Thomas A. Winters
Ship Engineering Company, an independent contractor, to clean the
holds. Part of this operation was performed while the vessel was
at the yard of Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company near
Chester, Pennsylvania. The libellant was employed by Thomas A.
Winters Ship Engineering Company as a laborer to assist in the
3. On December 29, 1948, the libellant and a fellow-employee
identified by him only as "Porkchop" were cleaning the lower No.
4 hold, which was about forty feet high. In order to sweep off
the beams supporting the deck above them, these men required the
use of a ladder to reach the under side of the beams. While
standing at the bottom of the hold, they called to other
employees of Thomas A. Winters Ship Engineering Company who were
working on the main deck to furnish them with a ladder. The
ladder was lowered to them by the winchman, who was also a
4. This ladder was described as a wooden extension ladder with
two sections each about 20 feet long. The extended or upper
section was held in place by metal catches or brackets. There
were three such brackets, one at each side at the lower end of
the extended section and another one midway between them, shaped
roughly like an inverted "V" and intended to rest on a rung of
the lower section in order to hold the upper section firmly in
whatever position might be desired. The upper section could be
raised or lowered by a rope operating through pulleys.
5. Libellant and his fellow-employee extended the ladder, and
"Porkchop" mounted to the top to clean the beams. The libellant
stayed below on the bottom of the hold to steady the ladder. When
it was necessary to move the ladder to a new position, "Porkchop"
descended to the bottom of the hold and the two men together
shifted the ladder while it was still in an extended position.
6. In order to grasp the ladder firmly to move it, the
libellant placed his hands at the sides of the ladder and his
thumbs were on one rung of the lower section. While the ladder
was being moved on one occasion, the upper section dropped down
and the catch or bracket jammed libellant's left thumb against
the rung of the lower section.
7. After the ladder telescoped and jammed the libellant's
thumb, he slipped on the deck of the hold and the ladder fell
with him. The libellant slipped in what he described as coal dust
on the deck. His duties at that time were to assist in cleaning
this substance from the hold, as contracted by his employer.
8. The libellant inspected the ladder after the accident and
found that the catches or brackets intended to support the upper
section were loose to an extent which would
account for the accident. I find that this defect in the ladder
constituted the sole, direct and proximate cause of the
9. The lighting conditions in the hold at the time of the
accident were described by the libellant as "dark" although he
testified that the hatch was completely open and it was daylight.
He was able to see that the ladder was in a defective condition
by means of the light then available. The Court finds under all
of the evidence that the lighting was adequate at the time of the
10. No evidence was produced by the libellant to establish the
ownership of the defective ladder which caused this accident, or
to show any trade custom which would create a reasonable
inference that the ladder was supplied by the vessel.
Conclusions of Law.
1. The Court has jurisdiction of the parties and subject
2. The sole, direct and proximate cause of the libellant's
injury was the allegedly defective condition of the extension
3. There was no evidence offered by the libellant which would
justify a reasonable inference that the ladder was owned or
supplied by anyone employed by, or representing, the shipowner.
4. A shipowner is not responsible for injuries to employees of
an independent contractor resulting from their use of defective
appliances which are not the property of the vessel or part of
its equipment, or which are brought on board the vessel by the
independent contractor for the use of such employees.
5. There is no presumption that an appliance such as an
extension ladder, which is used by employees of an independent
contractor in cleaning a ship, belongs to the vessel or
constitutes part of its equipment.
6. Under the evidence, the libellant slipped and fell as a
result of the ladder falling on his thumb. There is no evidence
that his injury was caused or aggravated when he slipped on the
coal dust or other substance which he stated was on the bottom of
7. The libellant's evidence was insufficient in law to make out
a prima facie case of liability against the shipowner.
8. The respondent's motion to dismiss the libel, presented at
the close of the libellant's case, is hereby granted.
9. A decree may be submitted in accordance with the foregoing
findings of fact and conclusions of law.
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