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U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore Steamship Co. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316 (1927)

Baltimore Steamship Company v. Phillips

No. 271

Argued April 18, 1927

Decided May 16, 1927

274 U.S. 316


1. A judgment in an action for personal injuries, based on one ground of negligence, bars a second action for the same injuries based on another ground of negligence. P. 274 U. S. 319.

2. A cause of action does not consist of facts, but of the violation of a right which the facts show. The mere multiplication of grounds of negligence alleged as causing the same injury does not result in multiplying the causes of action. P. 274 U. S. 321.

3. Therefore, the plaintiff is bound to set forth in his first action for damages every ground of negligence which he claims to have existed and upon which he relies, and cannot be permitted, as was attempted here, to rely upon them by piecemeal in successive actions to recover for the same wrong and injury. Distinguishing Troxell v. Del. Lack. & West. R. Co., 227 U. S. 434, where the ground of negligence in the second action was not actionable under the state law governing the first action. P. 274 U. S. 321. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 274 U. S. 317

4. By § 20 of the amended Merchant Marine Act, a seaman has a right of action for personal injuries when due to negligence of officer or employees of the ship as well as when resulting from defects due to negligence, which he may prosecute (under the federal law) either in the state court or in the admiralty court, and every ground of negligence open in the former would be equally so in the latter. P. 274 U. S. 324.

5. A judgment merely voidable because based upon an erroneous view of the law is not open to collateral attack, but can be corrected only by a direct review, and not by bringing another action upon the same cause. P. 274 U. S. 325.

6. Plaintiff sued first in the court of admiralty, to recover damage for a personal injury. Finding that the accident was not due to the negligence alleged -- viz., failure to provide a safe place to work, unseaworthiness and insufficiency of gear, and incompetency of officers employed on vessel -- and being of the erroneous impression, shared by counsel, that the negligence of officers or members of the crew, found to be the cause, was not indemnifiable in admiralty, the court gave judgment, on an alternative prayer, for cost of maintenance and cure only. Held that the judgment was a bar to a second action for the same injury, begun in a state court, alleging negligence of the shipowners, their officers, and employees in the control and operation of the vessel and appliances.

9 F.2d 902 reversed.

Certiorari (270 U.S. 638) to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals which affirmed a judgment for damages in an action for personal injuries, begun in a state court and removed to the federal court.

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