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U.S. Supreme Court

Gillespie v. United States Steel Corp., 379 U.S. 148 (1964)

Gillespie v. United States Steel Corp.

No. 10

Argued October 13, 1964

Decided December 7, 1964

379 U.S. 148


Petitioner, administratrix, whose son died while working on respondent's ship docked in Ohio, sued in a federal district court, claiming for the estate a right to recover damages for the benefit of herself and decedent's dependent brother and sisters for wrongful death. This claim was based on negligence under the Jones Act and on unseaworthiness under the general maritime law coupled with the Ohio wrongful death statute. Petitioner also claimed damages for the estate for decedent's pain and suffering before death based on the Jones Act and the general maritime law, causes of action which she claimed survived under the Jones Act and the Ohio survival statute, respectively. The District Court, upholding respondent's motion to strike, confined the complaint to the Jones Act and eliminated reference to recovery for the benefit of the brother and sisters. Petitioner filed an appeal from the ruling in the Court of Appeals, which respondent sought to dismiss as not being from a "final" decision under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Petitioner and decedent's dependents then sought mandamus in that court to compel the District Court either to deny the motion to strike or to certify its order granting the motion as appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). The Court of Appeals denied mandamus and affirmed the District Court's order.


1. The District Court's order was "final" and appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Pp. 379 U. S. 152-154.

(a) The requirement of finality is to be given a practical, rather than a technical, construction, and does not necessarily mean that an order, to be appealable, must be the last possible one to be made in a case. Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, followed. P. 379 U. S. 152.

(b) The inconvenience and costs of piecemeal review must be weighed against the danger of denying justice by delay in deciding the question of finality. Pp. 379 U. S. 152-153.

(c) Delay in adjudication of the dependents' rights might work an injustice upon them. P. 379 U. S. 153. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 379 U. S. 149

(d) This Court will review a trial court's ruling in a case not fully tried where the questions presented are "fundamental to the further conduct of the case." Pp. 379 U. S. 153-154.

(e) Though the District Court did not certify its order to strike under § 1292(b), the Court of Appeals' treatment of the order as final and appealable furthered the congressional policy behind that provision. P. 379 U. S. 154.

2. The Jones Act, which bases recovery on negligence, and not unseaworthiness, provides the exclusive right of action for wrongful death of a seaman killed in territorial waters of a State in the course of his employment, and supersedes all otherwise applicable state death statutes. Lindgren v. United States, 281 U. S. 38, followed. Pp. 379 U. S. 154-155.

3. The right of recovery under the Jones Act depends on § 1 of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), which excludes beneficiaries of a remote class (here the brother and sisters) if there are beneficiaries in a nearer class (here the mother). Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Wells-Dickey Trust Co., 275 U. S. 161, followed. P. 379 U. S. 156.

4. Petitioner's cause of action for decedent's pain and suffering before death survived under the Jones Act, through § 9 of the FELA, and will be assumed to have survived under the Ohio survival statute based on the theory of unseaworthiness. Pp. 379 U. S. 156-157.

5. Whether or not the estate can recover damages for pain and suffering should abide trial, there being no inflexible rule that, where death occurs from drowning, the period between accident and death is not sufficiently appreciable to afford a basis for the claim. The Corsair, 145 U. S. 335, distinguished. P. 379 U. S. 158.

321 F.2d 518 modified and affirmed.

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