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LAWSON v. UNITED STATES

February 16, 1950

LAWSON
v.
UNITED STATES et al. RETZ v. AMERICAN PETROLEUM TRANSPORT CORPORATION et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KAUFMAN

These suits are brought under the Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 761-768, by the personal representatives of Antonio Scull Cardenas and Donald Retz, two members of the crew of the steamship Crow Wing who lost their lives on March 30, 1945, when that vessel collided with another on the high seas.

After a trial before the Hon. Alfred V. Bryan, it was adjudged by the court that the deaths of the two seamen were caused by the negligence of employees of the defendant United States of America. After the fault was found the matter was referred to a Commissioner:

(a) To ascertain and compute the fair and just compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by each of the persons for whose benefit these suits have been brought;

 (b) To apportion among such persons the amount of damages in proportion to the loss they severally suffered by reason of the death of the persons by whose representatives these suits have been brought;

 (c) To ascertain the amount received in pursuance of the Second Seaman's War Risk Policies of insurance, by each of the persons for whose benefit these suits have been brought, and to deduct such amounts from the separate recovery of each beneficiary who shall have thus received part of the proceeds of such policies;

 (d) To report to the Court with all convenient speed.

 The Court has before it exceptions filed by the libellants to the report of the Commissioner which question his conclusion concerning the status of one Antonia Martinez as a beneficiary, and the adequacy of the amounts awarded to other beneficiaries.

 The status of Antonia Martinez as a beneficiary of the deceased Antonio Scull Cardenas will be considered first.

 On June 9, 1943 Cardenas married Paula Liendo in New Orleans. (Note: Maiden names will be used in reference to the Cardenas suit). On July 27, 1943, he signed on a steamship as an ordinary seaman and executed a form of beneficiary designation naming Paula Liendo as his wife. Cardenas left Paula Liendo after they had lived together for about seven weeks, and she did not hear from him again. They were never divorced.

 Antonia Martinez met the deceased about Christmas of 1944. On March 9, 1945, Cardenas executed an affidavit in the Borough of Manhattan of the City of New York for the purpose of procuring a license to marry Antonia Martinez in which he swore that he had not previously been married. The two were married in a church in New York City the next day. Cardenas joined the steamship Crow Wing March 20, 1945 and lost his life ten days later. He was 25 years old at the time of his death and was a citizen of Cuba.

 The Commissioner found that Paula Liendo was the lawful widow of the deceased and the libellants do not challenge that finding. They do maintain, however, that Antonia Martinez has some rights under the Death on the High Seas Act, in that she was a 'wife' or 'dependent relative' of the deceased under that Act.

 The Death on the High Seas Act provides as follows:

 'Section 1. Whenever the death of a person shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond a marine league from the shore of any State, or the District of Columbia, or the Territories or dependencies of the United States, the personal representative of the decedent may maintain a suit for damages in the district courts of the United States, in admiralty, for the exclusive benefit of the decedent's wife, husband, parent, child, or dependent relative, against the vessel, person, or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued.' 46 U.S.C.A. § 761.

 'Section 2. The recovery in such suit shall be a fair and just compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained by the persons for whose benefit the suit is brought and shall be apportioned among them by the court in proportion to the loss they may severally have suffered by reason of the death of ...


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