The opinion of the court was delivered by: KRAFT
Plaintiff, a seaman, seeks to recover damages for injuries claimed to have been suffered while boarding the Shawnee Trail, a vessel owned by the United States and operated by its agent, Marine Transport Lines. The bases of his claim are unseaworthiness of the vessel and negligence of the agent. He seeks as well to recover maintenance at the rate of $8 daily, which the parties stipulate to be the applicable rate.
These actions were tried to the Court and the parties have agreed that the Court need not make detailed or extensive findings of fact. They have also stipulated, with the Court's approval, that Zanos v. Marine Transport Lines, Inc., C.A. 42170, shall be dismissed with prejudice, if the Court finds in plaintiff's favor in C.A. 43838.
On September 12, 1966, plaintiff, the chief steward aboard the Shawnee Trail, was carrying a box of ship's stores up the gangway, when his foot went through its covering wire mesh. On at least three occasions before that day, the master had ordered a new gangway. On July 4, 1966, while the ship was in Houston, Texas, the port engineer complained to the master that the gangway was in very poor condition and told the master that he should have a new one. The unsafe condition of the gangway had been the subject of several safety meetings conducted by the master prior to the accident. The gangway contained holes which had been patched with season wire woven into the mesh.
We find that the vessel was unseaworthy and the defendant, United States, was negligent in failing to furnish a reasonably safe and seaworthy gangway. We find that unseaworthiness and negligence to be the sole cause of plaintiff's injuries.
At the time of his injury, September 12, 1966, plaintiff was 45 years of age. He was six feet tall and weighed approximately 270-273 pounds. He was considered medically, to be "grossly obese." His marked obesity has persisted since his earlier life, during which he pursued several occupations, among which were: restaurant worker, professional heavyweight boxer, seaman, police officer, steward and luncheonette owner.
When plaintiff's right leg went through the mesh covering of the gangway he fell and sustained injuries, inter alia, to his back, right leg, head and shoulder. After treatment at several Public Health Hospitals, he was declared permanently unfit for sea duty on September 22, 1967, upon release from the United States Public Health Hospital, Staten Island, New York. He was directed to return for an appointment on December 18, 1967. Upon this determination of unfitness for sea duty, plaintiff was compelled by the United States Coast Guard to surrender his seaman's papers.
Plaintiff's back injury was diagnosed to be a lumbosacral strain with a herniation of the intervertebral disc between lumbar vertebra 5 and sacrum vertebra 1. The preponderance of the evidence fairly supports this diagnosis and we so find.
While in a Public Health hospital in November, 1966, plaintiff experienced marked symptoms of what then appeared to be a coronary attack, which was then mistakenly diagnosed as arteriosclerotic heart disease and congestive heart failure. Later cardiac catheterization tests, taken at the University of Pennsylvania in May, 1970, ruled out the existence of any coronary disease.
In December, 1967, plaintiff suffered a gall bladder attack and was admitted to the Allegheny Valley Hospital on December 9, 1967. While in this hospital he underwent a laparotomy, resection of a portion of the omentum of the right colon and a cholecystectomy, the surgical excision of the gall bladder. Plaintiff again experienced severe chest pains, resulting in a doubtful diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism, which could not be more definitely diagnosed upon his discharge on February 12, 1968.
Plaintiff returned to the Allegheny Valley Hospital on four later occasions for treatment of what was thought to be "probable" coronary artery disease. On June 30, 1969, plaintiff was also found to have diabetes. He was ...