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ROBINS DRY DOCK & REPAIR CO. v. DAHL, 266 U.S. 449 (1925)

U.S. Supreme Court

ROBINS DRY DOCK & REPAIR CO. v. DAHL, 266 U.S. 449 (1925)

266 U.S. 449

No. 316.

Argued Dec. 4, 1924.
Decided Jan. 5, 1925.

[266 U.S. 449, 450]   Mr. A. G. Maul, of New York City, for plaintiff in error.

[266 U.S. 449, 452]   Mr. Ralph G. Barclay, of Brooklyn, N. Y., for defendant in error.

[266 U.S. 449, 454]  

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Defendant in error Dahl brought an action against the Robins Company- plaintiff in error-a New York corporation, in the Supreme Court, Kings County, New York, to recover damages for personal injuries. He alleged: That on February 2, 1920, while employed by the Robins Company and doing repair work on the steamer El Occident, then lying in navigable waters at Brooklyn, a plank scaffold on which he was walking or standing broke and caused him to fall into the hold. That he sustained serious injuries caused solely by and through negligence in that the company did not furnish a safe place to work and failed to provide a safe scaffold as required by the labor laws of the state of New York, but negligently and carelessly furnished an unsafe, inadequate and unsuitable scaffold and plank. [266 U.S. 449, 455]   The trial court instructed the jury:

Proper exceptions were noted. Judgment went for plaintiff Dahl and this was approved upon appeal. The plaintiff in error maintains that the trial court committed material error by instructing the jury as above stated. On the other side the claim is that the challenged instruction only permitted the jury to consider violation of the state law as evidence of negligence and did not therefore materially affect the question of responsibility. [266 U.S. 449, 457]   The alleged tort was maritime, suffered by one doing repair work on board a completed vessel. The matter was not of mere local concern, as in Grant Smith-Porter Ship Co. v. Rohde, 257 U.S. 469, 476 , 42 S. Ct. 157, 25 A. L. R. 1008, but had direct relation to navigation and commerce, as in Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Kierejewski, 261 U.S. 479 , 43 S. Ct. 418. The rights and liabilities of the parties arose out of and depended upon the general maritime law and could not be enlarged or impaired by the state statute. Chelentis v. Luchenbach Steamship Co., 247 U.S. 372, 382 , 38 S. Ct. 501; Union Fish Co. v. Erickson, 248 U.S. 308 , 39 S. Ct. 112; Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149 , 40 S. Ct. 438, 11 A. L. R. 1145; Carlisle Packing Co. v. Sandanger, 259 U.S. 255, 259 , 42 S. Ct. 475. They would not have been different if the accident had occurred at San Francisco.

The jury were distinctly told that they might consider the provisions of the local law in deciding whether or not the employer was negligent. No such instruction would have been permissible in an admiralty court, and it was no less objectionable when given by the state court. The error is manifest and material. See Central Vermont Railway Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 511 , 35 S. Ct. 865, Ann. Cas. 1916B, 252; New Orleans & N. E. R. R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U.S. 367, 371 , 38 S. Ct. 535; American Railway Express Co. v. Levee, 263 U.S. 19, 21 , 44 S. Ct. 11.

The judgment must be reversed.

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