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MEIER v. TEXAS CO.

May 13, 1958

Granville H. MEIER
v.
The TEXAS COMPANY (two cases)



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GANEY

This matter arises on the petition of Granville H. Meier, plaintiff-libellant, to vacate and set aside voluntary dismissals of a civil action for damages under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 688, and a suit in admiralty for wages, maintenance and cure, and to reinstate the action and suit upon the trial lists. The issue presented is whether a settlement of Meier's claims had been consummated or whether it had not, and if it had, may the settlement be set aside because (a) the release involved was executed under a mutual mistake of fact by both parties, or (b) the consideration for the release was inadequate.

Meier was employed as a utility man aboard the S.S Virginia, owned and operated by The Texas Company ('Texaco'), defendant-respondent herein. On January 21, 1954, while the vessel was off the coast of Venezuela, and Meier was carrying ice trays into the meat box, the roll of the vessel caused the fastener, which held the door open, to become disengaged. The free door swung around and struck Meier in the back and momentarily wedged the ice trays between the door frame and his chest. He reported the event to the master of the vessel and continued to work the remainder of the day as well as the two days following. On the third day he developed a fever and was confined to bed in the hospital section of the vessel for the remainder of the voyage. When the vessel arrived in Philadelphia on January 27, 1954, he was furnished with a hospital certificate by the master. After being paid his wages, he proceeded to his home in Philadelphia. On the following day he sought the service of a local law firm and then reported to the United States Public Health Station in Philadelphia. There his injury was diagnosed as 'contusion of the chest and upper arms.' He was treated as an outpatient for eleven days, and on February 8, 1954, the Public Health Service declared him fit for duty and discharged him as a patient. Eleven days later, at his counsel's request, Meier was examined by Dr. Jacob Krouse, an orthopedist. While Doctor Krouse could find nothing wrong with Meier orthopedically, he noted in his report of February 20, 1954, that the patient did have 'some form of generalized illness', as to the significance of which he did not feel qualified to express an opinion. In the report, therefore, he suggested to Meier's counsel that Meier be sent to an internist 'for the diagnosis, prognosis and possible medical-legal significance of Meier's physical difficulties.' On March 18, 1954, Meier returned to employment at sea.

 By letter dated March 26, 1954, to the claims department of Texaco, Meier's counsel sought to have any claim which Meier might have against it settled amicably. On April 15, 1954, local counsel was retained to handle the matter on behalf of Texaco, and they so notified Meier's counsel by letter dated April 19, 1954. Receipt of this letter was acknowledged with a reminder that Meier's counsel would make him available for medical examination when he returned from sea.

 When Meier returned, his counsel referred him to Dr. Eugene M. Schloss, an internist. The medical report dated July 12, 1954, after setting forth the facts of the accident of January 21, 1954, as related by the patient, and a brief history since that time, stated:

 'However, the pain at the lower end of the sternum and at a corresponding point in the back (lower dorsal-upper lumbar area) persisted, with accentuation on deep breathing, sneezing, bending and stooping. Weight, which prior to the accident was regularly 148 to 150, gradually dropped to the present level of 132 1/2 pounds; there was progressive decrease in strength correspondingly. Since the time of the accident there has also been an increasing nervousness, manifested by tremors of the hands and head, anxiety and insomnia; as a result of the insomnia, the patient has been suffering great fatigability.

 The report concluded with the following paragraph:

 'While it must be conceded that intensive study of this patient might disclose some organic basis for the patient's symptoms, it is my opinion that such thorough investigation is not warranted at this time. A trial of mild sedation may well constitute the first attempt at therapy; if this is not successful, psychiatric opinion should be sought. However, should the patient's condition deteriorate further or should additional physical signs of disease supervene, re-evaluation after further examinations and observation would be indicated.' *fn1"

 On July 20, 1954, the action and suit here involved were instituted. Seven months later counsel for Texaco requested opposing counsel to have Meier available for discovery purposes. In response to this request, Meier's counsel, by letter dated March 1, 1955, wrote:

 'In reference to your request that Mr. Meier be made available for discovery purposes, please be advised that on numerous occasions in the past we have advised your office that Mr. Meier was available for both a medical examination and a pre-trial oral examination at your pleasure. However, these requests have never been followed through. We believe that Meier is presently ashore and available for examination.

 'In the meanwhile we shall be pleased to discuss the amicable disposition of this matter, if you so desire.'

 On April 19, 1955, counsel for Texaco was notified by Meier's counsel that Meier was willing to accept $ 600 in settlement of his claims. The following day counsel for Texaco requested authority from their client to consummate the settlement for the sum stated by Meier's counsel.

 By letter dated May 10, 1955, counsel for Texaco notified opposing counsel that they had obtained authority to settle the claims. The letter of transmittal contained four typewritten releases, one original and three carbon copies. In pertinent part the releases provide as follows:

 '* * * That I, Granville H. Meier, in consideration of the sum of Six Hundred Dollars ($ 600.00) to me in hand paid, receipt of which consideration I do hereby acknowledge, here * * * released * * * the Steamship 'Virginia', and her owners, operators, and The Texas Company, * * * from all claims and demands * * * whether known or unknown, * * * of whatsoever nature * * * I now have, ever had, or may have, arising from all injuries and illnesses, and particularly, but not in limitation of any of the general terms of this release, for all injuries and illnesses, and all consequences thereof, whether known or unknown, which I allege were sustained by me on or about January 21, 1954, * * * at which time I was carrying ice trays into the meat box door, as a result of which I sustained ...


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