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U.S. Supreme Court


259 U.S. 263

No. 625.

Argued March 9, 1922.
Decided May 29, 1922.

[259 U.S. 263, 264]   Mr. E. Clarence Aiken, Deputy Atty. Gen., of New York, for petitioner.

[259 U.S. 263, 266]   Mr. E. C. Sherwood, of New York City, for respondents.

[259 U.S. 263, 269]  

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Sebastiana Insana, mother of Guiseppe Insana, asked of the New York State Industrial Commission an allowance under the Workmen's Compensation Law (Consol. Laws, c. 67) on account of her son's death, which she claimed resulted from accidental injuries received May 15, 1918, in the course of his employment as a longshoreman by the Nordenholt Corporation [259 U.S. 263, 270]   then unloading a vessel lying in navigable waters at Brooklyn. The cargo consisted of bags of cement. These were hoisted to the dock and there tiered up by Insana and other longshoremen. While thus engaged, he slipped and fell on the dock.

The Commission found 'the accidental injuries which the said deceased sustained while working for his employer when he fell from the pile of bags to the floor were the activating cause of his death, and his death was a direct result of the injuries sustained by him while engaged in the regular course of his employment,' and awarded compensation as specified by the statute. Upon authority of Matter of Keator v. Rock Plaster Manufacturing Co., 224 N. Y. 540, 120 N. E. 56, and Matter of Anderson v. Johnson Lighterage Co., 224 N. Y. 539, 120 N. E. 55, the Appellate Division reversed the award (Insana v. Nordenholt Corporation, 195 App. Div. 913, 185 N. Y. Supp. 933), and the Court of Appeals affirmed its action, without opinion, October 25, 1921 (232 N. Y. 507, 134 N. E. 549).

In both the Matter of Keator and of Anderson, the employee suffered injuries on land while helping to unload a vessel lying in navigable waters. The Court of Appeals held, when so injured, he was performing a maritime contract, and that for reasons stated in Matter of Doey v. Howland Co., Inc., 224 N. Y. 30, 120 N. E. 53, the Industrial Commission had no jurisdiction to make an award. While making repairs on an oceangoing vessel lying at the dock in navigable waters, Doey fell down the hatchway and sustained fatal injuries. The Appellate Division reversed an award of compensation, and the Court of Appeals affirmed its action, holding that, as Doey was performing a maritime contract, the Commission had no jurisdiction, under the doctrine of Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 , 37 Sup. Ct. 524, L. R. A. 1918C, 451, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 900, and Clyde Steamship Co. v. Walker, 244 U.S. 255 , 37 Sup. Ct. 545. It said:

An award to Newham, injured on the dock while checking freight and doing work similar to that of a foreman of stevedores was set aside in Newham v. Chile Exploration Co., 232 N. Y. 37, 133 N. E. 120 (October 18, 1921). The court said:

The court below has made deductions from Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, Clyde Steamship Co. v. Walker, and Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149 , 40 Sup. Ct. 438, 11 A. L. R. 1145, which we think are unwarranted, and has proceeded upon an erroneous view of the federal law.

When an employee working on board a vessel in navigable waters, sustains personal injuries there, and seeks damages from the employer, the applicable legal principles are very different from those which would control if he had been injured on land while unloading the vessel. In the former situation the liability of employer must be determined under the maritime law; in the latter, no [259 U.S. 263, 273]   general maritime rule prescribes the liability, and the local law has always been applied. The liability of the employer for damages on account of injuries received on shipboard by an employee under a maritime contract is matter within the admiralty jurisdiction; but not so when the accident occurs on land.

The injuries out of which Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen arose occurred on navigable waters, and the consequent rights and liabilities of the parties were prescribed by the maritime law. The question there was whether these rules could be superseded by the workmen's compensation statute of the state, and this court held they could not. In the opinion, citing Atlantic Transport Co. v. Imbrovek, 234 U.S. 52, 59 , 60 S., 34 Sup. Ct. 733, 51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1157, we said:

The doctrine that locality is the exclusive test of admiralty jurisdiction in matters of tort had been questioned in the Imbrovek Case, and to show beyond any doubt that the maritime rules applied as to Jensen's injuries, we used the quoted language. Later, in Grant Smith- Porter Ship Co. v. Rohde (January 3, 1922) 257 U.S. 469 , 42 Sup. Ct. 157, we said:

In Chelentis v. Luckenbach Steamship Co., 247 U.S. 372, 382 , 38 S. Sup. Ct. 501, 503 (62 L. Ed. 1171)-an action at law seeking full indemnity for injuries received by a sailor on shipboard-this was said:

See, also, Peters v. Veasey, 251 U.S. 121 , 40 Sup. Ct. 65; Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149 , 40 Sup. Ct. 438, 11 A. L. R. 1145

In Union Fish Co. v. Erickson, 248 U.S. 308 , 39 Sup. Ct. 112, it was held that when entering into maritime contracts the parties contemplate the system of maritime law, and its well-known rules control their rights and liabilities to the exclusion of state statutes.

In Western Fuel Co. v. Garcia (December 5, 1921) 257 U.S. 233 , 42 Sup. Ct. 89, it was held that where a stevedore's death on a ship within the state resulted from injuries there received, an admiralty court, in the absence of federal statute or positive maritime rule, would recognize and apply the state statute giving an action for damages on account of death.

Insana was injured upon the dock, an extension of the land (Cleveland, etc., R. R. Co. v. Cleveland S. S. Co., 208 U.S. 316 , 28 Sup. Ct. 414, 13 Ann. Cas. 1215), and certainly prior to the Workmen's Compensation Act the employer's liability for damages would have depended upon the common law and the [259 U.S. 263, 276]   state statutes. Consequently, when the Compensation Act superseded other state laws touching the liability in question, it did not come into conflict with any superior maritime law. And this is true whether awards under the act are made as upon implied agreements or otherwise. The stevedore's contract of employment did not contemplate any dominant federal rule concerning the master's liability for personal injuries received on land. In Jensen's Case, rights and liabilities were definitely fixed by maritime rules, whose uniformity was essential. With these the local law came into conflict. Here no such antagonism exists. There is no pertinent federal statute; and application of the local law will not work material prejudice to any characteristic feature of the general maritime law. Compare New York Central R. R. Co. v. Winfield, 244 U.S. 147 , 37 Sup. Ct. 546, L. R. A. 1918C, 439, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 1139.

The judgment of the court below must be reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

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