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U.S. Supreme Court

Kermarec v. Compagnie General Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625 (1959)

Kermarec v. Compagnie General Transatlantique

No. 22

Argued November 13, 1958

Decided February 24, 1959

358 U.S. 625


While visiting a seaman on board a vessel berthed at a pier in New York City, petitioner was injured by a fall down a stairway. Basing jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship, he brought an action for damages in a Federal District Court against the shipowner. He alleged unseaworthiness of the vessel and negligence of its crew. The jury returned a verdict for petitioner, but the District Court set it aside and dismissed the complaint.

Held: judgment vacated and case remanded to the District Court with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict and enter judgment accordingly. Pp. 358 U. S. 626-632.

1. Since petitioner was injured aboard a ship upon navigable waters, the case is within full range of admiralty jurisdiction and is governed by the standards of maritime law, and the District Court erred in ruling that it was governed by New York law. Pp. 358 U. S. 628-629.

2. The District Judge erred in instructing the jury that contributory negligence on petitioner's part would operate as a complete bar to recovery; he should have told the jury that petitioner's contributory negligence was to be considered only in mitigation of damages; but this error did not prejudice petitioner, because the jury found in his favor. P. 358 U. S. 629.

3. The District Judge was correct in eliminating from the case the claim based on unseaworthiness, since petitioner was not a member of the ship's company nor of that broadened class of workmen to whom the admiralty law has latterly extended the absolute right to a seaworthy ship. P. 358 U. S. 629.

4. Under maritime law, the owner of a ship in navigable waters owes to all who are on board for purposes not inimical to his legitimate interests the duty of exercising reasonable care under the circumstances of each case. Pp. 358 U. S. 629-632.

245 F.2d 175, judgment vacated and case remanded to the District

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Page 358 U. S. 626

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