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O'NEILL v. UNITED STATES UNITED STATES MARITIME CO

November 13, 1957

Charles O'NEILL
v.
UNITED STATES of America, United States Maritime Commission. Nathan R. ALLTMONT v. UNITED STATES of America United States Maritime Commission



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUSEN

This is an admiralty action for personal injuries suffered by libellants (an able-bodied seaman and Chief Engineer, respectively) when a mine exploded under the stern of a merchant tanker (S. S. Cedar Mills) owned and operated by respondents as this ship was starting to leave the harbor of Ancona, Italy, on November 19, 1945.

I. History of the Case

 Although there was extensive litigation over certain discovery aspects of these cases prior to October 9, 1953, *fn1" no document filed by libellants, seeking discovery, appears in the Clerk's file in either case between that date and December 12, 1955, when libellants resumed their discovery efforts by filing additional interrogatories. In spite of this more than two-year hiatus in libellants' efforts to secure evidence which might be needed for trial and of several continuances granted to them in the fall of 1955 and winter of 1956, *fn2" libellants requested another continuance on May 21, 1956, when the case was reached for trial as the result of a special listing, in order to inform a recently-discovered expert of the facts on which they based their claim. The respondents strenuously resisted any further continuance on the grounds that libellants had had all the basic information necessary to prepare their case since 1949, the witnesses were becoming increasingly more difficult to locate, and the respondents' attorney handling the matter was moving to Texas during the summer so that he would not be thereafter available without considerable difficulty. *fn3" The court granted libellants' application for a continuance to the extent of postponing (a) the start of the trial for a week, until May 28, 1956, and (b) the taking of testimony of the expert witnesses until July 16, 1956. *fn4"

 On the afternoon of July 18, 1956, at the conclusion of the respondents' expert testimony, libellants applied for leave to take rebuttal testimony at a later date after they had an opportunity to consult their expert witnesses (N.T. 1278 ff.). Respondents objected strenuously to the receipt of any additional testimony more than 24 hours after this Wednesday afternoon, since this week had been set aside for expert testimony, and requested the court to rule that, at the least, the libellants should be required to decide promptly (within 24 or 48 hours) whether they would offer additional testimony (N.T. 1284-5). In order to give libellants every opportunity to present their case, *fn5" the court granted libellants a month within which to consult their experts and apply to the court if they wished to offer rebuttal evidence by deposition (N.T. 1283-4). Respondents were given a week to answer libellants' letter, if written, requesting leave to take rebuttal testimony by deposition, with the understanding that they could also offer evidence by deposition after hearing libellants' rebuttal evidence (N.T. 1288).

 Requests for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law were filed during August and September 1957, and the final brief (respondents' reply brief) was filed on October 9, 1957.

 For the information of persons studying the record, there were three separate written stipulations of fact filed during the trial, as follows:

 1. Stipulation of Facts of May 1956, filed August 1, 1956 (Document No. 46 in Clerk's file, No. 287 of 1946).

 2. Stipulation of Facts filed and dated 7/16/56, but docketed as filed 7/19/56 (Document No. 44 in Clerk's file, No. 287 of 1946).

 3. Stipulation of Facts filed 12/6/56 (Document No. 51 in Clerk's file, No. 287 of 1946).

 Oral stipulations of counsel were read into the record on July 16, 1956, including the following:

 A. If a representative of the British Admiralty were called to testify, he would testify that the records kept by that Admiralty indicate that all of the mines laid in Ancona approaches and harbor were German ground mines (G.C.) and that the German G.C. mine was a general purpose ground mine which could be fitted with a variety of assemblies, and it is not possible to say which particular type of mine caused the loss of the S. S. Cedar Mills (N.T. 678).

 B. This representative of the British Admiralty would also testify that there is a record of the explosion of a mine (type not specified) quite close to the position where the Cedar Mills was subsequently sunk and that this mine was exploded by an LL sweep undertaken sometime between July 19, 1944, and August 18, 1944 (N.T. 680). *fn6"

 Evidence rulings on objections and motions made during the taking of the depositions are contained in Exhibit B attached hereto.

 II. Findings of Fact

 The trial judge makes the following Findings of Fact:

 1. Libellants' Requests for Findings of Fact numbered 1, 2 ('6184' should read '6134'), *fn7" 4, 5, 8, 9, 17, 23, 24, with the exception of the 5th sentence, 27, with the insertion in the third sentence, in place of the word 'by,' of the words 'as 'not suited for military duty' by the doctor for' (see Exhibit L-31, p. 2, and N.T. 279), and with the deletion of all words after the word 'consideration' in the third line from the end of that paragraph, 28, 30, and respondents' Requests for Findings of Fact numbered 9, modified to include the words 'weighing 2000-2300 pounds and' after the word 'mines' in line 2 and the words 'at Ancona' at the end of the words in the parentheses, *fn8" 10, 11, 1, modified to add '(see N.T. 490 and the X in a circle on L-4),' 2, 3, 4, 5, *fn9" 6, 7, 8, modified by changing 'several' to 'two,' 12, modified by inserting after the word 'maximum' in line 3 the words 'sound waves through vibrations of ship and,' 13, modified by ...


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