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U.S. Supreme Court

American Stevedores, Inc. v. Porello, 330 U.S. 446 (1947)

American Stevedores, Inc. v. Porello

No. 69

Argued December 11, 12, 1946

Decided March 10, 1947*

330 U.S. 446


1. The Public Vessels Act, 43 Stat. 1112, which provides that a "libel in personam in admiralty may be brought against the United States . . . for damages caused by a public vessel of the United States," authorizes a libel against the United States to recover damages for death or personal injuries caused by a public vessel of the United States. Pp. 330 U. S. 450-454, 330 U. S. 458-460.

2. Mere acceptance by an injured longshoreman of compensation from his employer pursuant to the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950, without an award by a deputy commissioner under § 19, does not preclude the longshoreman from thereafter electing to sue a third-party tortfeasor for injuries suffered while working on a vessel. Pp. 330 U. S. 454-456.

3. A stevedoring contract being a maritime contract, an admiralty court has jurisdiction to grant indemnity under an indemnity provision thereof. P. 330 U. S. 456.

4. A district court awarded indemnity to the extent of half of the damages under an ambiguous indemnity provision of a stevedoring contract without admitting evidence as to the intention of the parties or making any clear finding as to the meaning of the contract. On appeal, the circuit court of appeals held that the stevedoring contractor should indemnify the owner completely. On review in this Court, the case is remanded to the district court for determination of the meaning of the contract, since the district court may have the benefit of such evidence as there is upon the intention of the parties. Pp. 330 U. S. 457-458.

153 F.2d 605, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

No. 69. A longshoreman injured while working on a public vessel of the United States as an employee of a corporation engaged in loading the vessel under a stevedoring contract with the United States filed a libel to recover damages from the United States under the Public chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 330 U. S. 447

Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C. § 781 et seq. The District Court overruled the Government's exceptions to the libel. 53 F.Supp. 569. The Government then impleaded the stevedoring contractor charging it with fault and setting forth an indemnity provision of the contract. The contractor answered the libel, denying fault and asserting as an affirmative defense that, by accepting compensation payments under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950, the longshoreman had lost his right to sue a third-party tortfeasor. The District Court held that the longshoreman was not barred from maintaining the action, and that both the United States and the contractor were negligent, awarded damages from the United States, and awarded the United States contribution from the contractor as a joint tortfeasor to the extent of half the damages less the compensation payments received by the longshoreman. On cross-appeals by the United States and the contractor, the Circuit Court of Appeals held that the contractor was bound by the indemnity provision of the stevedoring contract to make the United States completely whole, and affirmed the decree with that modification. 153 F.2d 605. This Court granted certiorari. 328 U.S. 827. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, p. 330 U. S. 458.

No. 514. A District Court awarded damages against the United States under the Public Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C. § 781 et seq., for the death of a longshoreman resulting from injuries sustained while working aboard a vessel owned by the United States. 63 F.Supp. 538. On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals, 157 F.2d 416, certified to this Court a question which is answered as follows:

"The word 'damages,' as used in 46 U.S.C. § 782, includes damages under §§ 130-134 of the Decedent Estate Law of the State of New York recoverable by a personal representative because of the death of a human being."

P. 330 U. S. 460. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 330 U. S. 448

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