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STRIKA v. HOLLAND AMERICA LINE

May 12, 1950

STRIKA
v.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE et al. HOLLAND AMERICA LINE et al. v. JARKA CORPORATION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KAUFMAN

A special verdict was rendered by the jury in this action. The plaintiff Thomas Strika and the defendant Netherlands Ministry of Traffic Directorate General of Shipping, the only parties remaining in this action, have moved for judgment in their favor, respectively, on the special verdict.

Plaintiff brought this action to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by him on March 15, 1947, while he was working on a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey. Plaintiff at the time was foreman of a gang of longshoremen and had worked as a foreman for his employer, the Jarka Corporation for about 25 years.

On the day in question, Jarka was engaged in loading the S.S. Zuiderkruis which was moored to the pier. The S.S. Zuiderkruis was a victory ship which had been transferred from the United States Government to defendant Netherlands Ministry the preceding day. The two forward hatches of the ship were provided with 'pontoon' hatch covers; that is these hatches were covered by means of large steel covers each of which was approximately six feet wide and twenty feet long and weighed over a ton.

 The other hatches including the one on which plaintiff had been working during the day of March 15 were covered by means of the more common steel beams running thwartships with small wooden hatchboards covering the openings between the beams.

 Plaintiff and his gang had finished their work on their own hatch at about 3 p.m. on this Saturday. As plaintiff was about to check out for the day, he was instructed by the deputy superintendent of the pier to help the gang at the No. 1 hatch replace the pontoon cover which had been removed in the morning and placed on the pier. He found another longshoreman at the hatch cover and the two placed the rings of two bridles, which they found attached to and lying on the hatch cover, on the lip hook of the fall which was suspended above the dock. The winchman started to raise the hatch cover and when it was up only a few feet, the ring of one of the bridles came off the lip hook and one end of the pontoon cover fell, striking plaintiff's leg, necessitating its amputation.

 The action was originally commenced against the Holland America Line, the Rotterdam Lloyd Steamship Co., and the Netherlands Ministry of Traffic Directorate General of Shipping. The Netherlands Ministry impleaded the Jarka Corporation as a third-party defendant, and filed a cross-complaint against the Holland America Line. The Holland America Line filed a cross-complaint against the Jarka Corporation.

 In the course of the trial it became evident that the only proper party defendant was the Netherlands Ministry, which owned and operated the vessel, and accordingly the actions against the other defendants were dismissed. The cross-complaint against the Holland America Line was withdrawn, and therefore that Company withdrew its cross-complaint against the Jarka Corporation. At the close of defendant Netherland Ministry's case for indemnity against the third-party defendant, Jarka Corporation, it was apparent that under no possible circumstances could the defendant recover from the third-party defendant, and hence the third-party complaint was dismissed.

 The action therefore narrowed down to one by the plaintiff against the defendant Netherlands Ministry. The plaintiff charged the defendant with both unseaworthiness and negligence asserting that unsuitable and improper bridles were supplied by the ship for the purpose of lifting the pontoon hatch cover. The question was presented to the Court early in the trial whether a longshoreman injured while working on shore could recover for unseaworthiness, but since the possibility existed that the jury might find the defendant negligent, thereby eliminating the problem of unseaworthiness, the Court reserved decision on the question. The defendant as an affirmative defense claimed contributory negligence on plaintiff's part in the manner in which he used the bridles and caused the hatch cover to be lifted. A special verdict was employed by this Court in accordance with Rule 49 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., in order that there might be a clear determination as to the basis of liability of the defendant; so that if defendant was liable it could be explicitly determined whether its responsibility grew out of either negligence or the doctrine of unseaworthiness, if the Court should find that doctrine applicable in this case. This clear cut determination could never have been made by utilizing a general verdict. The replies of the jury upon the questions presented by this Court indicate clearly the wisdom of employing a special verdict in the proper case. The questions given to the jury with appropriate instructions and their answers thereto follow:

 (1) Did the defendant Netherlands Ministry of Traffic Directorate General of Shipping supply or provide the bridles used to lift the pontoon hatch cover? Answer- Yes.

 (2) Were the bridles suitable for the purpose of moving or lifting pontoon hatch covers? Answer- no.

 (3) Did the unsuitability of these bridles cause or contribute to the injury to the plaintiff? Answer- Yes.

 (4) Did the defendant know or have reason to know that the bridles were unsuitable and that the use of the bridles might cause injury to someone such as the plaintiff? Answer- No.

 (5) What are the plaintiff's damages due to the injury? Answer- $ 75,000.

 (6) Did any fault on the part of the plaintiff, either by an action of his or a failure to act, contribute ...


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