Petitioner, a stevedore subject to the provisions of the
Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, suffered an
injury in the course of his employment that necessitated removing
him from his job to his home. Written notice of the injury was not
given to the employer until six months later, but the foreman of
the gang in which petitioner worked and the walking foreman who had
employed petitioner and who supervised his work had actual notice
on the day of the accident, and the latter reported it to the
timekeeper. It was customary for an injured employee to report to
his immediate supervisor, who would send or take him to the
timekeeper. Both the supervisor and the timekeeper were instructed
to report injuries to the employer or agent in charge, but it was
not shown that they did so in this case.
on the record in this case, the Deputy
Commissioner was justified in finding that the employer had notice
of the injury within the meaning of § 12(d) of the Act. Pp.
346 U. S.
(a) It would be indefensible to hold that the requirements of §
12(d) are not satisfied unless the claimant can demonstrate that
the employer or the person he selects to be in charge had actual
personal knowledge of the injury -- especially in this case, in
which the employer claimed that a gearman was temporarily in charge
and it was not shown that the foremen or workmen had notice of his
designation. P. 346 U. S.
(b) Where the employee follows the practice prescribed by the
employer in reporting injuries, the burden of any failure of the
agents of the employer designated to receive such information to
report it to him must fall on the employer, and not on the
employee. Pp. 346 U. S.
200 F.2d 724 reversed.
Page 346 U. S. 329
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case involves the proper application of the notice
provisions of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation
Act, 44 Stat. 1424, as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq.,
by a Deputy Commissioner to the claim of an employee admittedly
subject to the provisions of the Act. Section 12 of the Act
"(a) Notice of an injury or death in respect of which
compensation is payable under this chapter shall be given within
thirty days after the date of such injury or death (1) to the
deputy commissioner in the compensation district in which such
injury occurred, and (2) to the employer."
"(b) Such notice shall be in writing, shall contain the name and
address of the employee and a statement of the time, place, nature,
and cause of the injury or death, and shall be signed by the
employee or by some person on his behalf, or in case of death, by
any person claiming to be entitled to compensation for such death
or by a person on his behalf."
"* * * *"
"(d) Failure to give such notice shall not bar any claim under
this chapter (1) if the employer (or his agent in charge of the
business in the place where the injury occurred) or the carrier had
knowledge of the injury or death and the deputy commissioner
determines that the employer or carrier has not been prejudiced
Page 346 U. S. 330
by failure to give such notice, or (2) if the deputy
commissioner excuses such failure on the ground that for some
satisfactory reason such notice could not be given. . . ."
44 Stat. 1431, 33 U.S.C. § 912.
The Deputy Commissioner found in favor of the claimant, and
awarded compensation. The United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas reversed his decision and enjoined
further payments, 101 F. Supp. 963. The Court of Appeals for the
Fifth Circuit affirmed by a divided court, 200 F.2d 724. This Court
granted certiorari to review the interpretation of the statute. 345
The facts as disclosed by the record and found by the Deputy
Commissioner are as follows:
The claimant, Earl Porter, was a stevedore employed by the
Southern Stevedoring and Contracting Company. On December 19, 1949,
while he was working in the hold of the S.S. Southern States, the
loading equipment struck an electric fixture which, in breaking,
ignited some sulphur and created a flash fire. The men fled in
terror from the hold, and, while claimant was on the ladder, he was
struck by a beam and knocked to the floor, with resulting injuries
to his back and shoulder. The Deputy Commissioner found that the
injuries were permanent. No written notice was given to the
employer until six months after the accident.
Several workmen on the stevedoring gang saw the claimant
injured. Others, including Leslie Lovely, foreman of the gang on
which claimant worked, saw him on the deck immediately after the
injury, unable to walk. Some of claimant's fellow workers carried
him to a nearby automobile. The walking foreman, Ernest Wisby, who
supervised the work of both stevedoring gangs on the
Page 346 U. S. 331
vessel, was immediately notified by the claimant of his injury,
and it was Wisby who drove the claimant to his home.
The claimant testified that he asked Wisby to take him to a
doctor, but that the latter told him he could not reach one until
7:00 a.m. This was at 4:15 a.m. Claimant testified that he crawled
into the house instead of walking because of the pain he was
suffering. Wisby did not return to take him to the doctor. Claimant
further testified that, later on the morning of the accident, he
sent his wife to the home of Wisby in order to have the latter
arrange for a doctor, but was told he was asleep, and that, two or
three days later, he went to Wisby's house and demanded that he be
taken to a doctor. Wisby admitted this, but denied that he ever
agreed to take the claimant to a doctor. He testified that he told
claimant that the timekeeper was the only one who had authority to
send him to a doctor. Wisby testified that he reported the injury
to the timekeeper on the day of the accident.
The record establishes that the usual method of reporting
accidents on this job and similar jobs is for the injured employee
to report to his immediate supervisor. The immediate supervisors of
the stevedores are the gang and walking foremen. When there is a
timekeeper on the job, the supervisor sends or takes the employee
to the timekeeper who sends the employee to a doctor. Both the
supervisor and the timekeeper are instructed to report the injury
to the employer or the agent in charge.
Wisby was the man who hired the claimant, directed his work, and
paid him his wages for the respondent. The only other person
claimed by respondent to be in authority for it on the ship at the
time of the accident was A. P. David, whose regular status was that
of gearman. He testified that he was left in charge of the job
Page 346 U. S. 332
when B. D. Harris, a partner in the stevedoring firm, left the
ship that day to make a trip to Houston. There is nothing in the
record to indicate, and there is evidence to the contrary, that the
authority claimed for David as representative of the company was
known to the foremen or workmen. David had no headquarters on the
job; there was no notice given of his change in status from
"gearman" to agent in charge; and, during the loading operation at
the time of the accident, he was in the galley talking and having
coffee with the timekeeper.
It is under these circumstances that the respondent contends,
and the courts below held, that the Deputy Commissioner could not
find that the employer had the notice required by § 12(d) of the
This conclusion was not justified. The flash fire was a matter
of common knowledge, and even terror, on the ship. Many witnesses
saw the claimant injured or on the deck, unable to walk immediately
thereafter. His gang foreman knew of the injury. The walking
foreman, who hired him and paid his wages, not only knew of it, but
had him carried to his car and drove him home, promising, according
to claimant's testimony, to later take him to a doctor. This same
foreman informed the timekeeper of the injury. Exactly what the
timekeeper and Mr. David were doing throughout this exciting and
dangerous period does not appear in the record, but certainly they
were sufficiently close to be aware of the occurrence.
The respondents would have us hold that, unless the claimant can
demonstrate that the employer, or the person he selects to be in
charge, even another workman selected without notice to the workmen
or foremen, has actual personal knowledge of the injury, the
requirements of § 12(d) are not satisfied. Such an interpretation
would be indefensible.
The accepted practice on the job was for personal injuries to be
reported by the injured party or his foreman
Page 346 U. S. 333
to the timekeeper. It then became the duty of the latter to
procure a doctor. When Wisby reported the injury to the timekeeper,
the established practice of notice to the employer was
substantially complied with. Both Wisby and the timekeeper were
under a duty to report the injury to the employer or his agent in
charge. The Deputy Commissioner found that the claimant received a
crippling injury, that he was illiterate and without instruction or
knowledge as to whom to report his injury, and that the practice on
the job of reporting injuries for medical assistance as recognized
by the employer was followed in his case, and that the failure to
supply medical assistance was due to the negligence of the employer
or his agents, and that the employer was not prejudiced by the
failure to give written notice. These findings are supported by the
evidence in the record. Under these circumstances, we hold that the
Deputy Commissioner was justified in finding that the employer had
notice of the injury within the meaning of § 12(d). The burden of
any failure of these agents to report must fall on the employer,
and not on a longshoreman who follows the routine the employer
prescribes. Particularly is it true in this case where the
claimant, who was totally illiterate and only worked as a stevedore
for two days, suffered a painful and crippling injury that
necessitated removing him from the job to his home.
This Act must be liberally construed in conformance with its
purpose, and in a way which avoids harsh and incongruous results.
Baltimore & Philadelphia Steamboat Co. v. Norton,
284 U. S. 408
284 U. S. 414
The Deputy Commissioner is empowered to hear and determine all
questions in respect of claims under the Act. 44 Stat. 1435, 33
U.S.C. § 919(a). The federal district courts have power to enjoin
awards only if they are not "in accordance with law." 44 Stat.
1436, 33 U.S.C. § 921(b); and see
Act, 60 Stat. 237, 5 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.
Page 346 U. S. 334
findings of the Deputy Commissioner are to be accepted unless
they are unsupported by substantial evidence on the record
considered as a whole. O'Leary v. Brown-Pacific-Maxon,
340 U. S. 504
Otherwise, reversal must rest on an error of law, such as a
misconstruction of the Act. Norton v. Warner Co.,
321 U. S. 565
Deputy Commissioner properly construed the law, and his findings
are supported by evidence. The Act was designed to provide
compensation for the included workers, regardless of whether
written notice was given, where the employer has knowledge of the
injury, or the employee cannot give the required written notice.
Because of our conclusion, it is not necessary to determine whether
the claimant could have given written notice to the employer.
The District Court also held that it would have been required to
refer the case back to the Deputy Commissioner for further findings
on the question of the permanence of the injury and the
determination of the compensation rate. These questions, however,
are not before the Court. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
reversed, and the case is remanded to the District Court for such
further proceedings as it deems necessary, not inconsistent with