1. A finding of seaworthiness by a district court sitting in
admiralty is usually a finding of fact, which will not be reviewed
here if the two courts below concurred in it. But the finding of
seaworthiness in this case is reviewable here, since both courts
below, holding themselves bound by a previous decision of this
Court, reached that conclusion as a matter of law. P. 321 U. S.
2. A vessel and its owner are liable to indemnify a seaman for
injury caused by unseaworthiness of the vessel or its appurtenant
appliances and equipment. P. 321 U. S.
3. A seaman who was injured on shipboard when the staging on
which he was working fell as a result of a break in defective rope
with which it was rigged is entitled under the maritime law to
indemnity from the shipowner for breach of the warranty of
seaworthiness. P. 321 U. S.
The owner is not relieved of liability in such case by the fact
that the use of the defective rope in rigging the staging was due
to the negligence of the ship's officers or of fellow servants of
the seaman, for the owner's duty to furnish the seaman with safe
appliances and a safe place to work is nondelegable; nor is the
owner relieved by the fact that there was sound rope aboard, which
could have been used in rigging the staging, for the owner's duty
is to furnish the seaman with safe appliances for use in his work
when and where it is to be done.
4. Plamals v. The Pinar Del Rio, 277 U.
, to the extent that it conflicts herewith, is
disapproved. P. 321 U. S.
135 F.2d 602 reversed.
Certiorari, 320 U.S. 725, to review the affirmance of a decree,
45 F. Supp. 839, denying recovery in an action in admiralty for
indemnity for injuries.
Page 321 U. S. 97
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner, a seaman on respondent's vessel, the "Wichita
Falls," was injured, while at sea, by a fall from a staging, which
gave way when a piece of defective rope supporting it parted. The
rope was supplied by the mate when there was ample sound rope
available for use in rigging the staging. The question is whether
the defect in the staging was a breach of the warranty of
seaworthiness rendering the owner liable to indemnify the seaman
for his injury.
Petitioner brought this suit in personam
in the District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania to recover indemnity
and maintenance and cure. On the trial, the evidence showed that
the mate ordered petitioner to paint the bridge and to stand on the
staging for that purpose. The staging consisted of a board
supported at both ends by rope which, if sound, was sufficient in
strength to sustain the stage and its load. The boatswain, by
direction of the mate, had cut the rope for the staging from a
coil, which had been stored for two years in the Lyle gun box. The
rope, intended for use with the Lyle life-saving apparatus, had
never been used. There was testimony that it had been examined and
tested by the boatswain and the mate and that it was generally
sound in appearance. After the accident, examination of the rope at
the point where it broke showed that it was so rotten as to be
inadequate to support the strain imposed upon it.
The trial judge concluded from the evidence that there was sound
rope on board available for rigging the staging. He found that
there was no fault in the manner in which the stage had been
rigged, but that the rope selected by the mate was defective, and
that petitioner's injury was attributable to the negligence of the
boatswain and the
Page 321 U. S. 98
mate in failing to observe the defect. [Footnote 1
] He held that the proceeding was brought too
late to recover for the negligence under the Jones Act, and that
the "Wichita Falls" was not unseaworthy by reason of the defective
rope used in rigging the staging, citing Plamals v. The Pinar
Del Rio, 277 U. S. 151
277 U. S. 155
He accordingly denied indemnity to petitioner, but gave judgment in
his favor for maintenance and cure.
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, 129 F.2d
857, 135 F.2d 602, by a divided court, resting its decision on the
statement quoted from the opinion in The Pinar Del Rio,
supra, 277 U. S. 155
"The record does not support the suggestion that the 'Pinar Del
Rio' was unseaworthy. The mate selected a bad rope when good ones
We granted certiorari, 320 U.S. 725, upon a petition which urged
that the statement quoted from The Pinar Del Rio, supra,
does not rule this case, and that the decision below is
inconsistent with the decisions in The Osceola,
189 U. S. 158
in Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith, 305 U.
The sole issue presented by the petition for certiorari is that
of respondent's liability to indemnify petitioner for the injury
suffered by reason of the defective staging. No question is raised
with respect to petitioner's right to recover under the Jones Act
or his right to the award of maintenance and cure or its
A finding of seaworthiness is usually a finding of fact.
Luckenbach v. McCahan Sugar Refining Co., 248 U.
, 248 U. S. 145
Steel v. State Line S.S. Co.,
L.R. 3 A.C. 72, 81, 82, 90,
91. Ordinarily we do not, in admiralty, more than in other
Page 321 U. S. 99
cases, review the concurrent findings of fact of two courts
below. The Camb Prince, 170 U. S. 655
170 U. S. 658
The Wilderoft, 201 U. S. 378
201 U. S. 387
Luckenbach v. McCahan Sugar Refining Co., supra; Piedmont &
George's Creek Coal Co. v. Seaboard Fisheries Co.,
254 U. S. 1
254 U. S. 13
Just v. Chambers, 312 U. S. 383
312 U. S. 385
Here, however, both courts below, holding themselves bound by
The Pinar Del Rio, supra,
have, on the facts found, held
as a matter of law that the staging was seaworthy despite its
defect. That conclusion of law is reviewable here.
Until the enactment of the Jones Act, 41 Stat. 1007, 46 U.S.C. §
688, the maritime law afforded no remedy by way of indemnity beyond
maintenance and cure, for the injury to a seaman caused by the mere
negligence of a ship's officer or member of the crew. But the
admiralty rule that the vessel and owner are liable to indemnify a
seaman for injury caused by unseaworthiness of the vessel or its
appurtenant appliances and equipment has been the settled law since
this Court's ruling to that effect in The Osceola, supra,
189 U. S. 175
Chelentis v. Luckenbach S.S. Co., 247 U.
, 247 U. S.
-381; Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger,
259 U. S. 255
259 U. S. 258
259 U. S. 260
Pacific S.S. Co. v. Peterson, 278 U.
, 278 U. S. 134
Cortes v. Baltimore Insular Line, 287 U.
, 287 U. S.
-371; Warner v. Goltra, 293 U.
, 293 U. S. 158
The Arizona v. Anelich, 298 U. S. 110
298 U. S. 120
et seq.; Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith supra,
305 U. S.
-429; O'Donnell v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock
Co., 318 U. S. 36
318 U. S. 40
The latter rule seems to have been derived from the seaman's
privilege to abandon a ship improperly fitted out, and was
generally applied, before its statement in The Osceola,
by numerous decisions of the lower federal courts
during the last century. See The Arizona v. Anelich,
at 298 U. S. 121
This was a recognized departure from the rule of the English
law, which allowed no recovery other than maintenance and cure for
injuries caused by unseaworthiness, Couch v. Steel, 3 El. & Bl.
402, until the enactment of the
Page 321 U. S. 100
Merchant Shipping Act of 1876, 39 & 40 Vict. Chap. 80, § 5,
reenacted by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, 57 & 58 Vict.,
Chap. 60, § 458. By that statute, there is annexed to every
contract of service between the owner of a ship or the master and
any seaman thereof, an obligation that all reasonable means be used
to insure the seaworthiness of the ship before and during the
Hedley v. Pinkney Steamship Co.,  A.C.
In a number of cases in the federal courts, decided before
The Osceola, supra,
the right of the seaman to recover for
injuries caused by unseaworthiness seems to have been rested on the
negligent failure, usually by the seaman's officers or fellow
seamen, to supply seaworthy appliances. The Noddleburn,
F. 855, aff'd,
30 F. 142; The Neptuno,
30 F. 925;
The Frank and Willie,
45 F. 494; The Julia
49 F. 277; William Johnson & Co. v.
86 F. 886, and see The Columbia,
745; The Lyndhurst,
149 F. 900. But later cases in this
and other federal courts have followed the ruling of The
that the exercise of due diligence does not
relieve the owner of his obligation to the seaman to furnish
adequate appliances. [Footnote
] Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger, supra,
259 U. S.
-260; The Arizona v. Anelich, supra,
298 U. S. 120
et seq.; Beadle v. Spencer, 298 U.
, 298 U. S.
-129; Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith, supra,
305 U. S.
-429, 305 U. S. 432
The H. A. Scandrett,
87 F.2d 708, 710, 711; cf. The
Edwin I. Morrison, 153 U. S. 199
153 U. S.
If the owner is liable for furnishing an unseaworthy appliance,
even when he is not negligent, a fortiori
is unaffected by the fact that the negligence of the officers of
the vessel contributed to its unseaworthiness.
Page 321 U. S. 101
It is true that, before the Jones Act, the owner was, in other
respects, not responsible for injuries to a seaman caused by the
negligence of officers or members of the crew. But this is not
sufficient to insulate the owner from liability for their negligent
failure to furnish seaworthy appliances, see
Brown in The Frank and Willie, supra,
Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger, supra, 259 U. S.
-260, more than their negligence relieves him from
his liability for maintenance and cure. The Osceola,
supra, 189 U. S. 175
Pacific S.S. Co. v. Peterson, supra, 278 U. S. 134
Calmar S.S. Corp. v. Taylor, 303 U.
, 303 U. S.
It required the Harter Act to relax the exacting obligation to
cargo of the owner's warranty of seaworthiness of ship and tackle.
] That relaxation
has not been extended, either by statute or by decision, to the
like obligation of the owner to the seaman. The defense of the
fellow servant rule to suits in admiralty for negligence, a defense
precluded by the Jones Act, has never avowedly been deemed
applicable to the owner's stricter obligation to the seaman of the
warranty of seaworthiness.
The Osceola, supra,
in answer to certified questions,
laid down as separately numbered and independent propositions the
rule of the owner's unqualified obligation to furnish seaworthy
appliances and the rule that the owner is not liable to a seaman
for the negligence of his fellow servants. It nowhere intimated
that the owner is relieved from liability for providing an
unseaworthy appliance merely because the unseaworthiness was
attributable to the negligence of fellow servants of the injured
seaman, rather than to the negligence of the owner. Indeed, to
support the rule of absolute liability, the Court, see The
Osceola, supra, 189 U. S.
-175, relied on cases in which the vessel or its
owner had been held liable for injuries resulting from
unseaworthiness, although application of the fellow
Page 321 U. S. 102
servant rule would have barred recovery. Of one, The Frank
and Willie, supra,
the Court, after pointing out that the
seaman was injured by reason of the negligent failure of the mate
to provide a safe place in which to work, said, "the question was
really one of unseaworthiness, and not of negligence."
The Court cited, discussed, and relied upon The Noddleburn,
supra, Olson v. Flavel,
34 F. 477, The Frank and Willie,
and The Julia Fowler, supra.
In each, the
seaman was injured as a result of his use of unseaworthy appliances
rendered so by the negligence of a fellow servant. In The Julia
the injury was caused by a fall from a
boatswain's chair which the Court found, as in this case, was
rigged with defective rope by reason of the fault of the mate. The
inapplicability of the fellow servant rule to this type of case was
recognized explicitly in The Noddleburn, supra,
in The Frank and Willie, supra,
495-497. And such was our
holding in Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger, supra,
it was said, at p. 259 U. S. 259
"without regard to negligence the vessel was unseaworthy." See
the discussion in The H. A. Scandrett, supra,
In thus refusing to limit, by application of the fellow servant
rule, the liability of the vessel and owner for unseaworthiness,
this Court was but applying the familiar and then well established
rule of nonmaritime torts that the employer's duty to furnish the
employee with safe appliances and a safe place to work is
nondelegable and not qualified by the fellow servant rule.
Hough v. Railway Co., 100 U. S. 213
100 U. S.
-220; Northern Pac. R. Co. v. Herbert,
116 U. S. 642
116 U. S.
-648; Baltimore & O. R. Co. v. Baugh,
149 U. S. 368
149 U. S.
-388; Union Pac. R. Co. v. Daniels,
152 U. S. 684
152 U. S.
-689. It would be an anomaly if the fellow servant
rule, discredited by the Jones Act as a defense in suits for
negligence, were to be resuscitated and extended to suits founded
on the warranty of
Page 321 U. S. 103
seaworthiness so as to lower the standard of the owner's duty to
furnish safe appliances below that of the land employer.
The staging from which petitioner fell was an appliance
appurtenant to the ship. It was unseaworthy in the sense that it
was inadequate for the purpose for which it was ordinarily used,
because of the defective rope with which it was rigged. Its
inadequacy rendered it unseaworthy whether the mate's failure to
observe the defect was negligent or unavoidable. Had it been
adequate, petitioner would not have been injured, and his injury
was the proximate and immediate consequence of the unseaworthiness.
See The Osceola, supra, 189 U. S.
-175, and cases cited. Any negligence of the mate in
selecting the rope and ordering its use as a part of the staging,
or of the boatswain in using it for that purpose could not relieve
respondent of the duty to furnish a seaworthy staging. Whether
petitioner knew of the defective condition of the rope does not
appear, but, in any case, the seaman, in the performance of his
duties, is not deemed to assume the risk of unseaworthy appliances.
The Arizona v. Anelich, supra, 298 U. S.
-124; Beadle v. Spencer, supra, 298 U. S.
-130; Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith,
Nor does the fact that there was sound rope on board, which
might have been used to rig a safe staging, afford an excuse to the
owner for the failure to provide a safe one. We have often had
occasion to emphasize the conditions of the seaman's employment,
see Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith, supra, 305 U. S.
-431, and cases cited, which have been deemed to make
him a ward of the admiralty and to place large responsibility for
his safety on the owner. He is subject to the rigorous discipline
of the sea, and all the conditions of his service constrain him to
accept, without critical examination and without protest, working
conditions and appliances as commanded by his superior officers.
These conditions, which have generated the exacting requirement
Page 321 U. S. 104
that the vessel or the owner must provide the seaman with
seaworthy appliances with which to do his work, likewise require
that safe appliances be furnished when and where the work is to be
done. For, as was said in The Osceola, supra, 189 U. S. 175
the owner's obligation is "to supply and keep in order
proper appliances appurtenant to the ship." (Italics supplied.) It
is not enough that the "Wichita Falls" had on board sound rope
which could have been used to make the staging seaworthy if, in
fact, the staging was unsafe because sound rope was not used.
The Julia Fowler, supra; The Navarino,
7 F.2d 743, 746;
cf. The Portland,
213 F. 699.
Respondent's argument that the defective rope was a consumable
supply of the vessel, not falling within the requirement that the
owner must furnish seaworthy equipment appurtenant to the vessel,
is inappropriate here because, as we have said, it was the stage
which was unseaworthy, by reason of the use of the defective rope
in its construction. The stage was used in the repair of the ship,
and was as intimately associated with it and with the seaman's
employment as are the gangways or other appliances or the
passageways used by the seaman in doing his work.
Moreover it would not be enough to say that this case concerns a
consumable supply, for in Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger,
the owner was held liable to a seaman for
unseaworthiness, where a consumable supply of the ship was stored
in such fashion as to render it dangerous to the seaman who used
it. There, gasoline had been negligently placed in a can marked
"coal oil," and the seaman was burned by an explosion which
resulted when he attempted to build a fire with the gasoline, which
he had taken out of the can thinking it to be coal oil.
The statement from The Pinar Del Rio, supra,
upon by the two courts below, could be taken to support
Page 321 U. S. 105
their decision, only on the assumption either that the presence
of sound rope on the "Wichita Falls" afforded an excuse for the
failure to provide a safe staging, or that antecedent negligence of
the mate in directing the use of the defective rope relieved the
owner from liability for furnishing the appliance thereby rendered
unseaworthy. But, as we have seen, neither assumption is tenable in
the light of our decisions before and since The Pinar Del Rio,
So far as this statement supports these assumptions, it
is disapproved. We cannot follow it and also follow The
the cases which it approved, and Carlisle
Packing Co. v. Sandanger, supra.
We prefer to follow the
latter as the more consonant with principle and authority.
The dissenting judge in the Circuit Court of Appeals thought
that this finding of negligence on the part of the ship's officers
was erroneous. See
135 F.2d 602, 605. There was no attack
on this finding here, and we have not examined the correctness of
the trial judge's conclusion, for, as we will point out, the
question whether there was such negligence does not control
decision of the issues of this case.
By statute, the owner's similar obligation with respect to the
carriage of goods is merely to exercise "due diligence to make the
. . . vessel in all respects seaworthy." Harter Act, § 3, 27 Stat.
445, 46 U.S.C. § 192. See also
Carriage of Goods by Sea
Act, § 4(1), 49 Stat. 1210, 46 U.S.C. § 1304(1).
See note 2
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS.
I think the judgment is wrong. The case does not present a
situation calling for liberalizing the maritime law in favor of
seamen by abolishing the defense of a fellow seaman's negligence.
Congress did that in 1920, 41 Stat. 1007. But it required actions
in such situations to be brought within two years, which it
subsequently extended to three years. The sole question is whether
recovery should be permitted beyond the time when Congress said
action must be instituted. I should say nothing further on this
question save that the method of reaching the decision seems to me
contrary to right exercise of the judicial function.
The petitioner has undoubtedly obtained care and cure to which,
as a seaman, he was entitled irrespective of fault on the part of
owner or master. He failed timely to avail himself of his right to
sue under § 33 of the Jones Act. In an action under that statute,
the defense of the negligence of a fellow servant would not have
been open to the respondent. In an effort to obtain damages, he
Page 321 U. S. 106
this action under the general maritime law. His recovery vel
under the unusual circumstances can be of little
importance to others than himself and the respondent. But, in order
to give him the demanded relief, the court resorts to nullification
of an earlier decision, Plamals v. Pinar Del Rio,
277 U. S. 151
indistinguishable in fact and law, which has stood unquestioned for
sixteen years, and applied principles settled years before in
The Osceola, 189 U. S. 158
The history of Plamals v. Pinar Del Rio
The libellant, a seaman on a British ship lying in United States
waters, was ordered by a mate to repair a stack. A sling was used,
for which the mate selected a piece of rope. The rope broke, and
the seaman was injured. He filed a libel in rem
the vessel. The owner gave bond and released the ship.
The libel, after reciting the facts, alleged that the injuries
were due "to the fault or neglect of the said steamship or those in
charge of her in that the said rope was old, worn, and not suitable
for use." The libel failed to refer to § 33 of the Jones Act, but,
at the trial, the libellant's proctor stated that he relied upon
it. The claimant, in its answer, asserted that the vessel was of
British registry and, as the only redress open to the libellant was
under the British Workmen's Compensation Law, the Admiralty Court
should decline jurisdiction. The claimant amended its answer to
deny liability on the ground that the ship was provided with proper
tackle but, through the negligence of an officer, bad tackle was
The District Court held that the British law -- the law of the
flag -- afforded no action in rem
nor any action for
indemnity, since there was an ample supply of good rope on board
and the mate chose an insufficient rope for use.
On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals held that the
libellant's pleadings were inadequate but, as no point had
Page 321 U. S. 107
been made of their infirmity, went on to consider "whether, on
the facts proven and under any applicable law, libelant has a
case." [Footnote 2/1
] It said the
libellant must make out a case of maritime tort; that, under the
law of England, there could be no recovery, and that, if the
applicable law were the maritime law of the United States, the
libellant could not recover for the improvident or negligent act of
the mate, adding: "If the vessel had been unsupplied with good and
proper rope, a different question would arise."
That court further held that, although, under the Jones Act,
libellant could have sued at law or filed a libel in
the statute gave no right to a libel in
The decree dismissing the libel was therefore
Petitioner sought review in this court and, in his petition and
briefs, asserted the right to maintain a libel in rem
under the Jones Act but, in the alternative, insisted that, under
the general maritime law, independent of the Jones Act, the
libellant was entitled to recover for the failure to supply, and
keep in order, proper appliances, properly rigged, and for the
unseaworthiness of the vessel in this respect.
It will be noted how closely that case parallels the instant
one. In both, though for differing reasons, the libellant was
precluded from relying on the Jones Act, which would have avoided
all question of a fellow servant's negligence. In both, the
libellant then sought to resort to his claim for indemnity for a
maritime tort. In the Pinar Del Rio
case, it was held that
he had made no case on the latter theory, and in the present case,
it is held that he has made out such a case. This court, in the
earlier case, held two things: first, that a libel in rem
cannot be maintained under the Jones Act, and second that, if the
case were treated as the Circuit Court of Appeals had treated it --
as one for
Page 321 U. S. 108
recovery of indemnity for a maritime tort -- the record would
not support the claim. The court said:
"The record does not support the suggestion that the Pinar
Del Rio was unseaworthy.
The mate selected a bad rope when
good ones were available."
"We must treat the proceeding as one to enforce the liability
prescribed by Section 33. It was so treated by petitioner's proctor
at the original trial, and the application for certiorari here
spoke of it as based upon that section. The evidence would not
support a recovery upon any other ground.
These holdings were made in answer to extended argument in the
briefs, the petitioner on the one hand contending that the vessel
should be treated as an American vessel and as being unseaworthy,
respondent contending that, whether British or American, she was
not unseaworthy under the law of either nation, and that the
libellant's injuries were due to the negligence of a fellow
servant. What the court said, therefore, was clearly responsive to
the contentions of the parties. The present decision does not
merely disapprove language used in the earlier case. It overrules
the case and alters long established law without adequate
There has been some suggestion that the holding in the Pinar
case to which I have referred crept into the opinion
by inadvertence. But I cannot assume any such thing in view of the
proverbial care which all the justices exercise to prevent
expression of opinion on questions not necessary to the decision of
a case. The decision must be taken at face value as the expression
of the views of all the members of the Court.
Cases now cited in the opinion of the Court were cited and
considered by the Court in the Pinar Del Rio case.
Page 321 U. S. 109
The most important of them, and one on which the Circuit Court
of Appeals relied in that case, was The Osceola, supra.
] The instant decision
not only overrules the Pinar Del Rio
case, but asserts
that it is inconsistent with the holdings in The Osceola.
If this be true, it must be because the court has a different
conception of the word consequence than that I have.
In The Osceola,
this Court, after the fullest
consideration, recapitulated the admiralty law respecting the
rights of injured seamen, inter alia,
as follows (p.
189 U. S.
"That the vessel and her owner are, both by English and American
law, liable to an indemnity for injuries received by seamen in
of the unseaworthiness of the ship, or a failure
to supply and keep in order the proper appliances appurtenant to
"That all the members of the crew, except perhaps the master,
are, as between themselves, fellow servants, and hence seamen
cannot recover for injuries sustained through the negligence of
another member of the crew beyond the expense of their maintenance
Unseaworthiness in the abstract does not afford a cause of
action. An injury must be "in consequence" of the unseaworthiness
-- must be connected with and result from it. And "unseaworthiness"
covers a variety of situations variously affecting the work and
risks of seamen. Unseaworthiness of the kind on which the court
bases its opinion is very different from that due to a faulty
mechanism which is an inherent risk to life and limb. If the
doctrine now announced is right, a vessel supplied with the newest
charts would be unseaworthy if the owner failed to remove old
charts from the pilot house; it would make the owner an insurer
that, no matter how
Page 321 U. S. 110
many adequate facilities were at hand, no insufficient one was
anywhere on the ship. Here, the so-called unseaworthiness did not
consist in want of adequate ropes for the seaman's need. His injury
was due entirely to the negligent selection by the mate of a piece
of bad rope when ample good rope was at hand. The district court
found that the mate was negligent, the Circuit Court of Appeals
accepted the finding, and the disposition of the case in this court
is on the assumption of the correctness of this finding.
The question, therefore, is whether the ship is liable for the
mate's negligent choice of a defective piece of rope when there was
plenty of good rope aboard. Under the principles announced in
recovery in admiralty for a maritime tort is
barred by the mate's negligence. It was to avoid the interposition
of such a defense of a fellow servant's act that the Jones Act made
the Federal Employers' Liability Act applicable to the claims of
The Court professes to have to choose between the doctrine it
reads into the decision in The Osceola
case and the ruling
in Pinar Del Rio.
But further it asserts that Pinar
is in conflict with Carlisle Packing Co. v.
Sandanger, 259 U. S. 255
opinion written by the same justice who wrote the opinion in the
Pinar Del Rio
case. The cited authority, as I read it,
clearly ruled that in order for a seaman to recover for an injury
where the ship is unseaworthy the unseaworthiness must be the
direct cause of his injury.
That was an action brought in a state court by an injured seaman
against the owner of a motor boat. When the boat left on her
voyage, a can intended for the use of the crew, supposed to contain
coal oil, and so labeled, had been filled with gasoline, and the
seaman, without notice of this fact, attempted to use the contents
Page 321 U. S. 111
burned. The supply of life preservers was insufficient, and his
injuries were aggravated by his having to search for one before he
could jump overboard and extinguish the flames consuming his
clothing. A verdict and judgment for the seaman was sustained. This
Court found that erroneous instructions had been given the jury,
but held the error harmless, since the record showed that, without
regard to the owner's negligence, the vessel was unseaworthy when
she left the dock, and the Court held (p. 259 U. S.
): " . . . if thus unseaworthy and one of the crew
received damage as the direct result thereof,
entitled to recover compensatory damages." (Italics supplied.) The
Court cited, amongst other cases, The Osceola.
I am at a loss to understand the citation of this case as
authority for the present decision. The reasoning of the Court's
opinion seems to be this: in the Carlisle Packing Co.
case, recovery was permitted because the injury was the direct
result of unseaworthiness. That decision therefore requires that
the owner be held liable in the instant case although the seaman's
injury was not the direct result of unseaworthiness, but of the
mate's negligence. It must be upon the basis of such reasoning that
the Pinar Del Rio
case is overruled and the judgment below
There is some suggestion that the Pinar Del Rio
was overruled by Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith,
305 U. S. 424
need only be said that the Pinar Del Rio
case was not
cited in the briefs of counsel in the Socony
referred to in the opinion, and that, in fact, the Socony
decision involved and purported to deal only with the general
doctrine of assumption of risk, and not with the defense of fellow
servant's negligence. That the defenses are not the same is made
plain by the fact that it has always been held that a fellow
servant's negligence is no defense in actions brought under the
Page 321 U. S. 112
Liability Act, [Footnote 2/4
whereas assumption of other risks was a defense [Footnote 2/5
] until Congress recently explicitly
acted to abolish it as such. [Footnote
Indeed, if, in the Socony
case, the suit had involved a
fellow servant's negligence instead of the seaman's assumption of
the risk involved in the use of an unsafe appliance supplied by the
vessel, the case would have been so plainly ruled by earlier
decisions [Footnote 2/7
] that it
would have merited no consideration, much less an opinion, by this
The statement in the opinion that the defense of a fellow
servant's negligence had never been deemed applicable to the
owner's obligation to the seaman under the warranty of
seaworthiness ignores the point that, if the seaman is to recover,
the unseaworthiness must, under the authorities cited, be the
direct cause of the injury. If it is not, but a fellow servant's
negligence is the cause, the seaman could not recover [Footnote 2/8
] until the law was altered by
the Jones Act.
The evil resulting from overruling earlier considered decisions
must be evident. In the present case, the court below naturally
felt bound to follow and apply the law as clearly announced by this
Court. If litigants and lower federal courts are not to do so, the
law becomes not a chart to govern conduct, but a game of chance;
instead of settling rights and liabilities, it unsettles them.
Page 321 U. S. 113
parties will bring and prosecute actions in the teeth of the
decisions that such actions are not maintainable on the not
improbable chance that the asserted rule will be thrown overboard.
Defendants will not know whether to litigate or to settle, for they
will have no assurance that a declared rule will be followed. But
the more deplorable consequence will inevitably be that the
administration of justice will fall into disrepute. Respect for
tribunals must fall when the bar and the public come to understand
that nothing that has been said in prior adjudication has force in
a current controversy.
Of course, the law may grow to meet changing conditions. I do
not advocate slavish adherence to authority where new conditions
require new rules of conduct. But this is not such a case. The
tendency to disregard precedents in the decision of cases like the
present has become so strong in this court of late as, in my view,
to shake confidence in the consistency of decision and leave the
courts below on an uncharted sea of doubt and difficulty without
any confidence that what was said yesterday will hold good
tomorrow, unless indeed a modern instance grows into a custom of
members of this court to make public announcement of a change of
views and to indicate that they will change their votes on the same
question when another case comes before the court. [Footnote 2/9
] This might, to some extent obviate
the predicament in which the lower courts, the bar, and the public
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER joins in this opinion.
The Pinar Del Rio,
16 F.2d 984, 985.
The Julia Fowler,
49 F. 277; The Noddleburn,
28 F. 855; The Osceola, 189 U. S. 158
7 F.2d 743. The Portland,
699, not cited, was, however, decided prior to this Court's
decision in the Pinar Del Rio
has long been recognized as a leading case.
It has been cited for the propositions it laid down at least
eighteen times by this Court, and nearly two hundred times by lower
Illinois C. R. Co. v. Skaggs, 240 U. S.
Seaboard Air Line v. Horton, 233 U.
Act of Aug. 11, 1939, 53 Stat. 1404.
Jamison v. Encarnacion, 281 U.
; Uravic v. F. Jarka Co., 282 U.
Chelentis v. Luckenbach S.S. Co., 247 U.
; The Rosalie Mahony,
218 F. 695; Re
Tonawanda Iron & Steel Co.,
234 F. 198; Payne v.
Jacksonville Forwarding Co.,
280 F. 150; The Daisy,
282 F. 261; Wood v. Davis,
290 F. 1; Hammond Lumber
Co. v. Sandin,
17 F.2d 760; Benedict Admiralty, 6 Ed., Vol. 1,
See Minersville School District v. Gobitis,
310 U. S. 586
Jones v. Opelika, 316 U. S. 584
316 U. S. 623
Barnette v. West Virginia State Board of
Education, 47 F. Supp.
, 252, 253; West Virginia State Board of Education v.
Barnette, 319 U. S. 624