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WITT v. UNITED STATES

March 2, 1949

WITT
v.
UNITED STATES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BYERS

Two causes are pleaded in the libel; the first for damages for personal injury, the second for maintenance and cure. The first embraces alleged loss of wages as well as the usual incidents of bodily injury.

Libellant was told by the Port Steward of Moore-McCormack Lines, the operating agent of respondent, to report for duty as chief steward aboard the S.S. David L. Swain, then lying at Norfolk, Virginia. This was on November 18, 1943.

He so reported on the vessel, which was moored to her pier, on the following day, and performed customary duties until November 24, 1943, when he claims to have suffered the injury in question.

 It seems that from about 6:00 P.M. and for one hour thereafter, he was in charge of a gang of four subordinates shifting ship's stores from one storeroom to another on the lower deck; these were packages and cases which were placed on a 5-foot platform, and removed therefrom by the other hands, one of whom is said to have been Swenson, 2nd cook.

 There was one door, dimensions not given, used for ingress and egress in connection with this work, which had been hooked open but was said later to have been unhooked. The platform was 10 feet by 12 feet and the room itself was 24 feet by 36 feet, and was lighted.

 The happening is thus described by libellant:

 'I was just handing down the last case and I am stepping down from the platform, the door moved slightly forward to me and then hit my left hip on the door knob, on that iron door. * * *

 'There was a slight movement of the ship; otherwise the door would have stayed in the same position without the hook on. * * *

 'I was stepping down from the platform at the time figuring that the door would be on the hook, but the door was actually off the hook and approximately maybe two inches toward me when I went down (off?) the platform.'

 Asked if he saw any part of the door open as he looked toward the passageway outside, he said: 'No'. Asked if he looked, he said:

 'I did look-no, I did not look at the door-well, I couldn't avoid looking at the door stepping down from the platform, being that the door was so close to the passageway, but I could not see at the time how far the open door was or how wide open it was.'

 He said that the platform was from 3 to 4 feet from the door which opened inwardly; that it was his duty to direct the men under him and to see to it that the door was hooked open while all hands were moving through the doorwa cents in performing the task at hand.

 Something will be said presently about Swenson, the second cook, upon whom libellant seemingly relies to establish that he was the one who unhooked the door, just prior to the contact with the knob. As to that, his testimon cents is:

 'I went out the storeroom. * * *

 'I was carrying a package ...


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