While unloading a ship docked at a Puerto Rican port, a
longshoreman suffered personal injuries when he slipped on some
loose beans spilled on the dock from broken and defective bags
being unloaded from the ship. He filed a libel in admiralty against
the ship, claiming damages for injuries caused by the ship's
unseaworthiness and by the negligence of its owner.
1. The case was within the maritime jurisdiction under the
Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, since it was alleged that
the shipowner committed a tort while or before the ship was being
unloaded and the impact was felt ashore at a time and place not
remote from the wrongful act. Pp. 373 U. S.
2. This Court sustains the finding of the Trial Court that the
shipowner was negligent in allowing the beans to be unloaded in
their defective bagging when it knew or should have known that
injury was likely to result to persons having to work about the
beans that might, and did, spill, and that the shipowner was liable
to the longshoreman for injuries resulting from such negligence,
irrespective of its alleged lack of control of the impact zone. Pp.
373 U. S.
3. When a shipowner accepts cargo in a faulty container or
allows a container to become faulty, he assumes responsibility for
injuries that this may cause to seamen or their substitutes on or
about the ship; these leaky bean bags were unfit, and thus
unseaworthy. Pp. 373 U. S.
4. The duty to provide a seaworthy ship and gear, including
cargo containers, applies to longshoremen unloading the ship,
whether they are standing aboard ship or on the pier. Pp.
373 U. S.
5. Although the longshoreman filed his libel over a year after
expiration of the analogous Puerto Rican statute of limitations,
the finding of the Trial Court that no prejudice to the shipowner
was occasioned by the delay and that the longshoreman's claim
therefore was not barred by laches is sustained as not plainly
erroneous. Pp. 373 U. S.
301 F.2d 415 reversed, and cause remanded.
Page 373 U. S. 207
MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner, a longshoreman unloading the S.S. Hastings
at Ponce, Puerto Rico, slipped on some loose beans spilled on the
dock and suffered personal injuries. He subsequently filed a libel
against the Hastings,
claiming damages for injuries caused
by the ship's unseaworthiness and by the negligence of its owner,
the respondent corporation. The case was tried in admiralty before
the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico,
and the court found the following facts relevant in the present
posture of the case. 193 F. Supp. 894.
The cargo of beans was packed in broken and defective bags, some
of which were being repaired by coopers aboard the ship during
unloading. Beans spilled out of the bags during unloading,
including some from one bag which broke open during unloading, and
the scattering of beans about the surface of the pier created a
dangerous condition for the longshoremen who had to work there. The
shipowner knew or should have known that injury was likely to
result to persons who would have to work around the beans spilled
from the defective bags, and it was negligent in allowing cargo so
poorly stowed or laden to be unloaded. Petitioner fell on the beans
and injured himself, and such injuries were proximately caused by
the respondent's negligence and the unseaworthiness of its cargo or
Page 373 U. S. 208
Although petitioner filed his libel over a year after the
analogous Puerto Rican statute of limitations ran, [Footnote 1
] the court found that the delay
was excusable, and that no prejudice to respondent was occasioned
by the delay, since it had access at all times to its and the
stevedore's [Footnote 2
records which contained the relevant facts, and since all the
potential witnesses were available and produced at trial.
Accordingly, the trial court entered a money judgment of some
$18,000 for petitioner.
Respondent appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for
the First Circuit, which reversed with directions to dismiss the
action. 301 F.2d 415. It held that respondent had not been
negligent, as a matter of law, because it "had neither control of
nor even a right to control" the pier. The court also stated that
petitioner did not prove what particular beans he slipped on, and
that the ones responsible for his fall might have come from a bag
that, "for all that appears," may have been dropped and broken open
due to some third party's negligence. As for seaworthiness, the
court held that the shipowner was not responsible for the lading or
cargo containers, stating:
"The very fact that unseaworthiness obligations are 'awesome' .
. . suggests that they should not be handled with prodigality. We
are unwilling to recognize one here."
Finally, it reversed the conclusion below as to laches, since
the availability to respondent of the witnesses when the libel was
filed was not as advantageous to it as would have been an
opportunity to examine them at an earlier date. That this was
Page 373 U. S. 209
the court concluded, was shown by the fact that the witnesses'
testimony was at variance with respondent's records of the ship's
unloading. Petitioner sought certiorari from this adverse judgment,
and we brought the case here, 371 U.S. 810, to resolve the
apparently troublesome question as to the shipowner's liability for
his torts which have impacts on shore. We have concluded that the
judgment of the Court of Appeals must be reversed with respect to
each of the three headings involved.
At the outset, we are met with an issue which is said to be
jurisdictional. Counsel for respondent candidly admits failure to
raise the point below, but, as is our practice, we will consider
this threshold question before reaching the merits. McGrath v.
Kristensen, 340 U. S. 162
340 U. S.
-168; Ford Motor Co. v. Treasury Dept.,
323 U. S. 459
323 U. S. 467
Matson Nav. Co. v. United States, 284 U.
, 284 U. S. 359
(admiralty case); Grace v. American Cent. Ins. Co.,
109 U. S. 278
109 U. S. 283
Hope Ins. Co. v.
5 Cranch 57; see Wheeldin v.
371 U.S. 812; Brown Shoe Co. v. United
States, 370 U. S. 294
370 U. S.
Respondent contends that it is not liable, at least in
admiralty, because the impact of its alleged lack of care or
unseaworthiness was felt on the pier, rather than aboard ship.
Whatever validity this proposition may have had until 1948, the
passage of the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, 62 Stat.
496, 46 U.S.C. § 740, swept it away when it made vessels on
navigable water liable for damage or injury "notwithstanding that
such damage or injury be done or consummated on land." Respondent
and the carrier amici curiae
would have the statute
limited to injuries actually caused by the physical agency of the
vessel or a particular part of it -- such as when the ship rams a
bridge or when its defective winch drops some
Page 373 U. S. 210
cargo onto a longshoreman. Cf. Strika v. Netherlands
Ministry of Traffic,
185 F.2d 555 (C.A.2d Cir.); Hagans v.
237 F.2d 477 (C.A.3d Cir.). Nothing in the
legislative history supports so restrictive an interpretation of
the statutory language. There is no distinction in admiralty
between torts committed by the ship itself and by the ship's
personnel while operating it, any more than there is between torts
"committed" by a corporation and by its employees. And ships are
libeled as readily for an unduly bellicose mate's assault on a
crewman, see Boudoin v. Lykes Brothers Steamship Co.,
348 U. S. 336
348 U. S.
-340; The Rolph,
299 F. 52 (C.A.9th Cir.),
or for having an incompetent crew or master, see Keen v.
Overseas Tankship Corp.,
194 F.2d 515, 517 (C.A.2d Cir.), as
for a collision. Various far-fetched hypotheticals are raised, such
as a suit in admiralty for an ordinary automobile accident
involving a ship's officer on ship business in port, or for
someone's slipping on beans that continue to leak from these bags
in a warehouse in Denver. We think it sufficient for the needs of
this occasion to hold that the case is within the maritime
jurisdiction under 46 U.S.C. § 740 when, as here, it is alleged
that the shipowner commits a tort [Footnote 3
] while or before the ship is being unloaded,
and the impact of which is felt ashore at a time and place not
remote from the wrongful act.
As indicated supra,
the trial court found respondent
negligent in allowing the beans to be unloaded in their defective
bagging when it knew or should have known that injury was likely to
result to persons having to work about the beans that might, and
did, spill. There was substantial evidence to support these
Page 373 U. S. 211
testified that beans spilled out of broken bags throughout
unloading, and this is corroborated by respondent's records of the
unloading, which stated that bags of beans were found torn at the
time of discharging, and some of them were re-coopered. Moreover,
the trial court was entitled to infer that respondent should have
known of the defective condition of the bagging when the bean bags
were leaking while still in the ship, when beans spilled out of the
bags throughout unloading, and when coopers were sent aboard to
repair the torn bagging. To be sure, there is some conflict between
details of the testimony and respondent's records of the unloading,
but the trial court was entitled to believe the one, rather than
the other. As for the possibility that the beans petitioner slipped
on may have come from some other source, such as, "for all that
appears," a third party, it is sufficient to note that the trial
court was not plainly erroneous in not so believing.
The force of these fact findings is not lessened by the
contention that respondent did not control the pier, or have "even
a right to control that locus," 301 F.2d at 416. We doubt that
respondent had no license to go upon the pier at which it was
docked and clean up the loose beans, if it had wanted to; the beans
were its cargo that it was unloading onto the pier. But we may put
this aside, since control of the impact zone is not essential for
negligence. The man who drops a barrel out of his loft need not
control the sidewalk to be liable to the pedestrian whom the barrel
hits. See Byrne v. Boadle,
2 H. & C. 722 (Exch.). And
the same holds for the man who spills beans out his window, on
which the pedestrian slips. Respondent allowed the cargo to be
discharged in dangerous and defective bagging, from which beans
were leaking before discharge of the cargo began. It had an
absolute and nondelegable duty of care toward petitioner
Page 373 U. S. 212
not to create this risk to him, which it failed to meet. When
this lack of care culminated in petitioner's injury, respondent
became legally liable to compensate him for the harm.
The trial court also found unseaworthiness in the condition of
the bagging. Two questions are raised in this connection: (1)
whether the use of defective cargo containers constitutes
unseaworthiness, and (2) whether the shipowner's warranty of
seaworthiness extends to longshoremen on the pier who are unloading
the ship's cargo.
The first question is not one of first impression, for it was
decided in petitioner's favor in Atlantic & Gulf
Stevedores, Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd., 369 U.
. There, a longshoreman was injured when a bale of
burlap cloth fell on him because the metal bands wrapped about the
bales, cf. Cotton-Tie Co. v. Simmons, 106 U. S.
, broke while the bales were being hoisted with a hook
and winch. The trial court charged the jury that,
"if you find that the bands of the bale were defective, were
inadequate, or insufficient . . . , then you might find the
defendants liable under the doctrine of unseaworthiness."
Id. at 369 U. S. 361
n. 3. The charge became critical in the posture of the case before
this Court because the Court of Appeals had reversed the portion of
the judgment in favor of the stevedore on the shipowner's claim for
indemnity because both had been negligent, in the Court of Appeals'
view of the jury's special findings. This Court reinstated the
original judgment because "there is a view of the case that makes
the jury's answers to special interrogatories consistent," namely,
on the matter covered by the proper charge on unseaworthiness, and
therefore the interrogatories "must be resolved that way . . . [to
avoid] a collision with the Seventh Amendment." Id.
369 U. S. 364
That unseaworthiness could be predicated upon the defectiveness of
Page 373 U. S. 213
metal bands wrapped around and used to contain the burlap cargo
was thus essential to the disposition of the case.
The holding in Ellerman
is consistent with earlier
decisions. [Footnote 4
Seaworthiness is not limited, of course, to fitness for travel on
the high seas; it includes fitness for loading and unloading.
Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U. S.
. It has already been held that, when cargo is stowed
unsafely in the hold, a longshoreman injured thereby may recover
for unseaworthiness. E.g., Rich v. Ellerman & Bucknall S.S.
278 F.2d 704, 706 (C.A.2d Cir.); Curtis v. A. Garcia
241 F.2d 30, 33-34 (C.A.3d Cir.); Palazzolo v.
Pan-Atlantic S.S. Corp.,
211 F.2d 277, 279 (C.A.2d Cir.),
aff'd on other grounds, 350 U. S. 350
124, 350 U. S. 134
see Morales v. City of Galveston, 370 U.
, 370 U. S. 170
(dictum). [Footnote 5
] And, in
at least one case, it has been held that a longshoreman could
recover for injuries caused by a "latent defect" in a cargo crate
which broke when the longshoreman stood on it. Reddick v.
McAllister Lighterage Line,
258 F.2d 297, 299 (C.A.2d
These cases all reveal a proper application of the seaworthiness
doctrine, which is, in essence, that things about a ship, whether
the hull, the decks, the machinery, the tools furnished, the
stowage, or the cargo containers, must be reasonably fit for the
purpose for which they are to be used. See Mitchell v. Trawler
Racer, Inc., 362 U. S. 539
362 U. S. 550
Morales v. City of Galveston, 370 U.
, 370 U. S. 169
370 U. S. 172
(dissenting opinion). A ship that leaks is unseaworthy; so is a
cargo container that leaks. When the shipowner
Page 373 U. S. 214
accepts cargo in a faulty container or allows the container to
become faulty, he assumes the responsibility for injury that this
may cause to seamen or their substitutes on or about the ship.
Beans belong inside their containers, and anyone should know, as
the trial court found, that serious injury may result if they get
out of their containers and get underfoot. These bean bags were
unfit, and thus unseaworthy.
The second question is one of first impression in this Court,
although other federal courts have already recognized that the case
law compels this conclusion. Strika v. Netherlands Ministry of
185 F.2d 555 (C.A.2d Cir.); Robillard v. A. L.
Burbank & Co., 186 F.
(S.D.N.Y.); see Pope & Talbot, Inc. v.
258 F.2d 214, 218 (C.A.9th Cir.). In Strika,
while the longshoreman was working on the dock, use of an improper
wire cable caused a hatch cover to fall on him. Building on such
cases as O'Donnell v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co.,
318 U. S. 36
seamen recovered under the Jones Act for injuries due to the
owner's negligence despite their being ashore at the time, and
where longshoremen aboard ship doing
seamen's tasks were permitted to recover for unseaworthiness, the
court held that the tort of unseaworthiness arises out of a
maritime status or relation, and is therefore "cognizable by the
maritime [substantive] law whether it arises on sea or on land."
Accordingly, the court permitted recovery for unseaworthiness.
See also Hagans v. Farrell Lines,
237 F.2d 477 (C.A.3d
Cir.), where the point was assumed in a case involving a
longshoreman on the pier struck with sacks of beans when a
defective winch did not brake properly.
In Robillard, supra,
a longshoreman was injured when,
because of unseaworthy stowage and overladen drafts, he was struck
by some cargo that was knocked off the deck onto the pier. The
court found "the logic of these authorities . . . (Sieracki,
etc.) ineluctable," and
Page 373 U. S. 215
allowed recovery in unseaworthiness while denying it in
We agree with this reading of the case law, and hold that the
duty to provide a seaworthy ship and gear, including cargo
containers, applies to longshoremen unloading the ship, whether
they are standing aboard ship or on the pier.
Finally, we have concluded that the ruling of the trial court on
laches is not plainly erroneous, and should not have been reversed.
The test of laches is prejudice to the other party. Gardner v.
Panama R. Co., 342 U. S. 29
342 U. S. 30
Cities Service Oil Co. v. Puerto Rico Lighterage Co.,
F.2d 170, 171 (C.A.1st Cir.) (both unreasonable delay and
consequent prejudice). The trial court, having heard the witnesses
testify, concluded that there was no prejudice. The Court of
Appeals had no warrant to reverse this finding as plainly erroneous
merely because, in some way, it might have been more advantageous
to respondent to question the witnesses sooner than it did.
] Nor can
Page 373 U. S. 216
prejudice be inferred from a variance between the witnesses'
testimony and respondent's written records of the unloading. The
trial court, which heard the witnesses, was the proper judge of
which evidence was credible; that records differ from testimony
here does not mean that respondent was prejudiced by delay -- it
means that respondent was "prejudiced" by the factfinder's refusal
to believe its evidence, and no more.
The Court of Appeals erred in setting the judgment of the
District Court aside. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
reversed, and the case remanded to the District Court for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Petitioner's injury was covered by the Puerto Rico Workmen's
Compensation Act, under which suits must be instituted within a
year following the date of the final decision in the case by the
Manager of the State Insurance Fund. Puerto Rico Laws Ann. §
The stevedore was Waterman Dock Company, a wholly owned
subsidiary of respondent Waterman Steamship Company.
The question of whether the warranty of seaworthiness extends to
longshoremen on the dock is considered infra
373 U. S.
case was cited with approval in the later
decision, Morales v. City of Galveston, 370 U.
, 370 U. S. 170
and the majority of the Court in Morales,
exception, joins the majority here. Morales,
did not involve the unseaworthiness of cargo containers, but rather
that of a ship's hold.
But see Carabellese v. Naviera Aznar, S.A.,
355 (C.A.2d Cir.) (top-heavy crate of machinery).
We note that respondent admits in its brief that
"petitioner's witnesses were available . . . , that the payroll
records of the stevedore indicated the potential eyewitnesses, that
the accident report filed by the stevedore named the witnesses and
formed part of the record of the State Insurance Fund, that
respondent produced evidence indicating the cargo damaged prior to
and at the time of the discharge, that medical records indicating
treatment and the names of the treating physicians were available,
and that the respondent took petitioner's deposition and submitted
interrogatories. . . ."
Moreover, the record indicates that respondent never bothered to
interview the petitioner's witnesses Roman or Cintron before trial,
despite the fact that petitioner's answers to interrogatories named
them. And respondent does not contradict petitioner's contention
that respondent chose not to interview any of the witnesses, even
though it had their names through discovery. In such circumstances,
it is hardly appropriate for respondent to claim prejudice for want
of an opportunity to interview the witnesses sooner. In this
connection, it should be noted that the accident occurred October
21, 1956; the analogous statute of limitations ran out November 30,
1957; the libel was filed January 9, 1959; trial began March 21,
1960 -- so that as much time elapsed between filing the action and
trial, when respondent failed to interview the witnesses, as
elapsed during the period of alleged laches.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting.
The decision in this case has importance in admiralty law beyond
what might appear on the surface. It marks another substantial
stride toward the development by this Court of a doctrine that a
shipowner is an insurer for those who perform any work on or around
a ship subject to maritime jurisdiction. While my primary
disagreement with the Court goes to its holding on unseaworthiness,
I am also unable to agree with its views on the negligence
The shipowner's duty with respect to seaworthiness is a duty to
furnish a vessel that is reasonably fit for its intended use -- one
that is staunch and strong, that is fitted out with all proper
equipment and in good order, and that carries a sufficient and
competent crew and complement
Page 373 U. S. 217
of officers. Gilmore and Black, The Law of Admiralty, 158. As
developed by this Court in cases involving injury to seamen and
dock workers, the duty has become absolute, and has been found to
reach even transitory conditions arising after the outset of the
voyage. See Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.
. But, except for the few unpersuasive instances
noted in this opinion, the obligation has remained one relating
essentially to the ship and its appurtenances. See id.
362 U. S. 550
Although the doctrine has been extended -- in my view, quite
questionably -- to equipment
brought on board by a
stevedore, see Alaska S.S. Co. v. Petterson, 347 U.
, [Footnote 2/1
the shipowner has not been deemed an insurer of the condition of
the cargo. His duty with respect to cargo has been to see that it
is stowed in a manner that does not make the ship itself an unsafe
place to work. See, e.g., Palazzolo v. Pan-Atlantic S.S.
211 F.2d 277; Curtis v. A. Garcia y Cia.,
F.2d 30; Rich v. Ellerman & Bucknall S.S. Co.,
F.2d 704; Carabellese v. Naviera Aznar, S.A.,
355. [Footnote 2/2
The Court, however, has concluded that it is bound by the
determination last Term, in Atlantic & Gulf Stevedores,
Inc. v. Ellerman Lines, Ltd., 369 U.
, to hold that defective cargo may, in and of
itself, render the shipowner liable for unseaworthiness. I must
admit that some language in that case (369 U.S. at 369 U. S. 364
does appear to stand for this proposition. But I think it fair to
suggest that it was negligence, not unseaworthiness, on which
Page 373 U. S. 218
attention was focused there -- indeed unseaworthiness was
neither briefed nor argued. At all events, I am frank to say that,
in concurring in the result in that case, unseaworthiness as a
distinct issue entirely eluded me, as it evidently did the
dissenters, who interpreted the majority opinion as suggesting that
the jury's finding was premised on a negligent failure to inspect
the cargo containers. See
369 U.S. at 369 U. S. 365
Moreover, the case cited by the Ellerman
Court in support
of its unseaworthiness conclusion, Weyerhaeuser S.S. Co. v.
Nacirema Operating Co., 355 U. S. 563
not even touch upon such an issue. So casual a determination should
not be blindly accepted as fastening on the law of admiralty such a
far-reaching innovation. At least, it should not preclude us from
considering the question anew when it is now fully and squarely
presented. [Footnote 2/3
The Court's decision after Ellerman,
in Morales v.
City of Galveston, 370 U. S. 165
the strongest evidence that Ellerman
was not regarded as
establishing the fundamental change in the law of unseaworthiness
for which it is now cited. In Morales,
working in the hold of a ship had been injured by the fumes
emanating from grain that had been improperly treated with an
excessive amount of a chemical insecticide. The grain in question
had been found to be "contaminated," although not due to the fault
or with the knowledge of the city or the shipowner, and the
question before this Court was whether the longshoreman could
recover for unseaworthiness. The Court sustained the conclusion of
the lower courts that he could not, because, under the
Page 373 U. S. 219
the absence of a forced ventilation system in the hold did not
"What caused injury in the present case, however, was not the
ship, its appurtenances, or its crew, but the isolated and
completely unforeseeable introduction of a noxious agent from
without. The trier of the facts ruled, under proper criteria, that
[the ship] was not in any manner unfit for
the service to which she was to be put, and we cannot say that his
determination was wrong."
370 U.S. at 370 U. S. 171
The crucial point for present purposes is that both the majority
and the dissenting opinions in Morales
viewed the issue in
terms of the seaworthiness of the ship: whether or not it should
have had a forced ventilation system in the hold. Nowhere was it
even suggested that liability for unseaworthiness could arise
solely by virtue of the defective state of the cargo itself, even
though its contaminated and unsafe condition had clearly been
established and was not in dispute. Thus, the Court in
unanimously ignored the possibility of a doctrine
which the Court today concludes was squarely established less than
three months earlier, in Ellerman.
In order to conclude that the respondent shipowner was negligent
in the circumstances presented here, it was necessary for the trier
of fact to find that the respondent knew or should have known of
the defective condition of the bags being unloaded. It is doubtful
that such a
Page 373 U. S. 220
finding was made by the trial judge in this case -- the closest
he came was the statement that the shipowner was negligent in
permitting broken and weakened bags to be discharged "when it knew
or should have known that injury was likely to result." This
finding passes over the basic question: whether respondent had
notice, or constructive notice, of the condition of the bags
Even assuming for present purposes that the necessary finding as
to notice was made, I believe that the judgment on negligence
cannot be sustained, for there is no evidence whatever to support
such a finding. The evidence in the record, including the landing
report, relates only to the stevedore company's knowledge of the
condition of the bags. There is nothing to suggest that any agent
or employee of the respondent was or should have been in the area,
or knew or should have known of the condition of the cargo at the
time of unloading. [Footnote 2/5
And, of course, there is no basis in law for charging the shipowner
with responsibility for any negligence on the part of the stevedore
Whether from the standpoint of negligence or unseaworthiness, I
see no basis for the holding in this case. Presumably the result
reached by the Court would be the same -- at least consistency
demands that it should be the same -- if this accident had occurred
on the dock while the beans were being loaded, rather than
unloaded. Yet in neither case is there warrant for holding the
shipowner to have breached any obligation, for in neither case does
it own or control the place where the accident occurred, and in
neither case is the ship's equipment, property, or crew in any way
responsible, with or without fault, for the injury.
Accordingly, I would affirm.
A 6-3 unexplicated per curiam.
The result in Reddick v. McAllister Lighterage Line,
258 F.2d 297, the only other Court of Appeals case cited by the
majority, is consistent with these decisions, for all three judges
agreed that the finding of unseaworthiness
could be sustained on the basis of improper stowage. Two of the
judges said, but only alternatively, that the finding could
be predicated on the latent defect in the cargo
crate." 258 F.2d at 299. (Emphasis added.)
I do not attach significance to the fact that, in
the Court was asked in a petition for rehearing
to reconsider whether cargo can itself be unseaworthy. Petitioners
for rehearing lie within the broad discretion of the Court, and are
almost never granted. Indeed, this petition for rehearing serves
principally to underscore the fact that the point had not been
briefed, argued, or apparently even considered by the parties as
germane to the case prior to its decision.
The Court in Morales
with several other cases, only for the proposition that a ship
might be unseaworthy because "[t]he method of loading her cargo, or
the manner of its stowage, might be improper." 370 U.S. at
370 U. S. 170
Such a proposition, of course, is wholly different from the one for
is cited today.
The coopers sent aboard were employed by the stevedore company,
not the steamship company.