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BLAIR v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.

May 1, 1970

David P. BLAIR
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION


Gourley, Senior Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOURLEY

This is an admiralty action brought by plaintiff to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by him while working on a vessel in the course of his employment as a stevedore or barge-loader for the defendant. A sole cause of action is asserted under the maritime doctrine of seaworthiness. Following the completion of pre-trial proceedings, a non-jury trial was conducted by this member of the Court. The testimony has been completed, the transcript filed, and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law have been submitted by counsel for the respective parties. Based upon the complete record, I am of the opinion that judgment must be awarded in favor of plaintiff and against defendant. In support thereof, the Court sets forth the following:

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 Jurisdiction and Liability

 1. Plaintiff was first employed by defendant at its National Tube Works in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, on December 29, 1964, as a pipe loader in the shipping department. Prior to February 7, 1967, his work had always been performed in the plant or surrounding area, on the land or on railroad cars. Before the date of his accident he had never worked on a barge.

 2. On February 7, 1967 and February 8, 1967, defendant assigned plaintiff to assist in loading pipe in barges moored in the Monongahela River at the defendant's barge-loading area. On each of said dates plaintiff was engaged in barge-loading work between the hours from 3 P.M. to 11 P.M.

 3. The Monongahela River is a navigable waterway of the United States.

 4. The barges on which plaintiff worked on both dates were designated as MBL 810, OBL 388 and OBL 465. Of these only MBL 810 was a jumbo (large sized) covered (having movable lids) type barge.

 5. Plaintiff's accident occurred during the performance of barge work on February 7, 1967. It was cold and after dark when the events took place which are the subject of this litigation. The barge being loaded at the time was a jumbo covered barge designated as MBL 810.

 6. The work of loading the barge was accomplished with the aid of defendant's locomotive crane which was stationed on the dock and the boom of which had attached to it a cable and sling for carrying pipe. Defendant's crane operator would lift a load of pipe from railroad cars brought to the dock area, transport the load over the dock area and lower it into the barge. On an average, the crane carried a load of about ten tons. The distance from the top of the dock to the bottom of the barge was approximately twenty-five feet.

 7. The plaintiff was one of a crew of four pipe loaders, the duties of which were to receive the pipe as lowered from the dock to the barge, unhook the slings, roll the pipe into place, place spacers, secure the cargo and perform other miscellaneous functions in order to accomplish the loading of pipe in the barge.

 8. In order to perform his duties, it was necessary for the plaintiff to be in the bottom of the barge. It was neither feasible nor possible for him to leave the bottom of the barge during the time a lift was being made, there being no means of egress afforded.

 9. Plaintiff had never been instructed concerning barge loading operations and was unfamiliar with the procedures followed or events that could be expected to arise during loading.

 10. The pipe was being loaded in the barge in several tiers. Plaintiff was working on top of the first tier of pipe along with Harrison and Hamar. Fani was laying bearing strips in the second tier in which there was some pipe.

 11. Between the tiers was an open space.

 12. The distance from the top of the tier of pipe upon which plaintiff was standing to the floor of the barge between the two tiers of pipe was six to eight feet.

 13. On the floor of the barge in the space between the tiers there was an accumulation of ice six or eight feet long and four feet wide, or at least four feet in diameter.

 14. Although one of the fellow employees had discovered said icy condition plaintiff had not been told about said condition nor had he noticed or seen the same. This was unquestionably due to the poor and insufficient lighting in the loading area and more particularly on the barge vessel.

 15. The lighting was such that various areas of the barge were in shadow or darkness. Although there were lights on the dock wall and upon poles situated on the dock, there were no lights on the barge for illuminating the work area. Portable or artificial lights were not placed or temporarily installed on said barge or any other barges being loaded. In fact, it was the defendant's practice not to do so in any barge being loaded.

 16. The accident occurred as a sling loaded with pipe was being lowered into the barge. As the lift was brought down, a swing began to develop. The lift banged or struck the edge of the barge, then contacted or was brought up against the wall of the dock, and then started down into the barge.

 17. Harrison, who had fourteen years experience and was working with plaintiff on top of the tier, thinking that the lift might "get away", ran to the outside corner of the barge where he knew he would be out of reach of a swinging lift. Hamar also went to this location.

 18. Plaintiff, fearing that the load would break loose and fall upon him, jumped from the tier of pipe on which he was standing to the floor of the barge and landed on the accumulation of ice which was in the area between the tiers. He slipped, landing in a sitting position and his head jerked back. As a result, he was injured.

 19. Although it was customary for a locomotive-crane operator, on occasion, to check the swing in a lowered lift by bringing the lift gently against the barge wall, plaintiff, inexperienced and uninstructed in barge operations, honestly believed he was involved in a sudden emergency as a result of the course of the swinging lift, both before and after it struck the barge wall. Plaintiff was never told, informed or advised of said custom. The sudden emergency ...


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