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Edynak v. Atlantic Shipping

filed: August 15, 1977.


Appeal From the United States District Court For The Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Seitz, Chief Judge, Rosenn, Circuit Judge, and Meanor*fn* District Judge.

Author: Rosenn

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

When Congress enacted the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act Amendments of 1972 and thereby abolished the longshoreman's suit for unseaworthiness,*fn1 it hoped to reduce the litigation arising from longshoremen's personal injuries and to effect a saving of judicial resources.*fn2 The experience of this court indicates that, for two reasons, Congress' hope has yet to be realized: first, the unclarity of the 1972 amendments has generated litigation seeking interpretation of that legislation;*fn3 second, the unseaworthiness action remains available to those longshoremen who were injured prior to the enactment of the 1972 amendments.*fn4 The instant appeal is illustrative of the second reason, and presents several questions regarding the scope of the longshoreman's unseaworthiness action.


On December 9 and 10, 1971, Stephen Edynak, an employee of Allied Chemical Company ("Allied"), was working on board the S.S. Ariana, a vessel owned by appellant Atlantic Shipping Company ("Atlantic"). Edynak was functioning as a signalman, using a series of hand signals to coordinate and direct the movements of a pier-based crane as it unloaded the Ariana's cargo of fluorspar; because of the crane operator's remote, shore-side location in the crane's control cab, a signalman was necessary to serve as the operator's "eyes." The crane was owned, operated, and maintained exclusively by Allied, and the cargo being unloaded was also owned by Allied.

During the afternoon of December 10, Edynak signaled the crane operator to relocate the crane from the Ariana's number four hatch forward to her number three hatch. When Edynak looked into the number three hatch opening, he observed men working below. He placed his hands on the hatch coaming -- the metal, chest-high wall surrounding the hatch opening -- and waited for them to finish. The crane's bucket was at that point hanging stationary above a far corner of the hatch. Edynak continued to wait for five or six minutes, then turned his back to the crane and began to look out in the direction of the Delaware River. In making this movement, he gave no signal to the crane operator, and his left hand remained on the hatch coaming. A minute or two later, without signal or warning, the crane bucket swung about, descended, and struck Edynak's left hand. On the two days that Edynak had been aboard the Ariana the crane bucket had struck the coaming on five or six occasions, but the crane operator had not previously lowered the bucket without a signal.

A number of medical operations were necessary to restore partial use of Edynak's left hand. Following the accident, Edynak, who is right-handed, continued his employment with Allied at the prevailing laborer's rate, the rate he earned at the time of the accident. He lost some time from work while undergoing surgery and recuperating.

Edynak brought suit against Atlantic in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, basing jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship. He claimed that Atlantic was negligent, that an improper method of unloading the Ariana rendered the vessel unseaworthy, and that Atlantic's negligence and the vessel's unseaworthiness proximately caused his injuries. Atlantic joined Allied as a third-party defendant. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Edynak at the end of the liability phase of a bifurcated trial. By answers to special interrogatories, the jury found that Atlantic was negligent, that the vessel was unseaworthy, and that Edynak's own negligence contributed to his injuries in the proportion of five percent. The jury subsequently assessed damages at $300,000. Judgment was entered in favor of Edynak against Atlantic in the amount of $285,000, reflecting a five percent reduction as a consequence of Edynak's contributory negligence,*fn5 and the third-party action against Allied was dismissed. The district court denied Atlantic's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial.

On this appeal, Atlantic argues that maritime law was inapplicable to this case; that even if maritime law was applicable, the vessel was not unseaworthy; and that the damages were excessive.*fn6 We affirm.


Atlantic first contends that state law rather than federal maritime law should have been applied to this case. In support of this proposition, Atlantic relies primarily on two cases: Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law, 404 U.S. 202, 30 L. Ed. 2d 383, 92 S. Ct. 418 (1971), and Executive Jet Aviation, Inc. v. City of Cleveland, 409 U.S. 249, 34 L. Ed. 2d 454, 93 S. Ct. 493 (1972).

In Victory Carriers, Law, a longshoreman, was injured on a pier while driving a forklift owned by and under the direction of his stevedore employer. Law had picked up a load of cargo on the dock and moved it to a point alongside the S.S. Sagamore Hill where it was to be lifted aboard by the vessel's own equipment. As he returned to the pickup point, the overhead protection rack of the forklift came loose and fell on him. He sued the vessel and its owner in federal district court, alleging that the unseaworthiness of the vessel and the negligence of its owner had caused his injuries. The unseaworthiness claim became the critical issue. The district court granted the vessel owner's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the doctrine of unseaworthiness did not extend to Law, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed.

The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals. Mr. Justice White, writing for the majority, stated that the threshold question before the Court was "whether federal maritime law governs accidents suffered by a longshoreman who is injured on the dock by allegedly defective equipment owned and operated by his stevedore employer." 404 U.S. at 204. In answering that question in the negative, Justice White observed that Law's case exhibited none of the typical elements of a maritime cause of action:

Law was not injured by equipment that was part of the ship's usual gear or that was stored on board, the equipment that injured him was in no way attached to the ship, the forklift was not under the control of the ship or its crew, and ...

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