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LUDENA v. THE SANTA LUISA

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


February 24, 1953

LUDENA
v.
THE SANTA LUISA

The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEIBELL

Findings of Fact

1. Libelant, a woman now 67 years of age, was at the time the libel was filed, and still is, a resident of the City of New York.

 2. At all of the times mentioned in the libel, claimant, Grace Line, Inc., owned, operated, managed and controlled the combination passenger-cargo steamship Santa Luisa.

 3. Estelle Ludena, the libelant, became a passenger on the S.S. Santa Luisa at Callao, Peru, on or about March 7, 1949, under a ticket-contract (Ex. A.) issued to and signed by her, which provided for passage to New York, via the Canal Zone.

 4. About two days prior to meeting with her injuries, libelant was transferred from Cabin No. 5 to Cabin No. 7. This transfer has no bearing on the question of liability in this suit.

 5. Cabin No. 7 is situated upon the innerstarboard passageway of the "A" deck. The door to Cabin No. 7 is located at the port end of the cabin and opens inward from the starboard passageway. (Ex. 6).

 6. The door of Cabin No. 7 when in an open position, was equipped with a spring door-holding device consisting of an omega shaped spring clip attached to the inner face of the door at the top and a rounded notched plug, affixed to the partition behind the door, which engaged the spring clip, held the door in a wide-open position, as shown on Exhibit F, when the door was pushed back against the partition.

 7. In order to release the door of Cabin No. 7 from a wide-open position, a person would have to pull upon the door so that the spring clip would spread, thus releasing the plug and freeing the door so that it could be closed.

 8. The door to Cabin No. 7 also had a hook-and-eye combination, with the eye upon the outer face of the door at the top and a short hook therefor upon the jamb. When the hook was inserted in the eye on the door it held the door in a partially open position (about six inches). The hook when not in use rested in another eye on the partition near the jamb, as shown on Exhibit 1.

 9. The athwartship vestibule of Cabin No. 7, into which the door opened, was not equipped with a handrail. But the passageway outside the cabin had a handrail.

 10. The Santa Luisa left the Atlantic breakwater of the Canal at 11:31 p.m. on March 14, 1949, and upon entering the Caribbean Sea she encountered moderate northeasterly swells and winds which increased somewhat during the following day. On March 15th the vessel was rolling moderately in moderately rough northeasterly seas and long heavy swells until libelant met with her injuries the evening of March 15th. See ship's log, Ex. B.

 11. About 7:15 p.m. of March 15, 1949, while the Santa Luisa was rolling moderately in the Caribbean Sea, libelant entered her room in order to freshen up for dinner. The temperature on deck that afternoon had been in the upper seventies. The wind force was between 4 and 5 (Beaufort scale) -- moderate to fresh.

 12. Libelant suffered her accident about 7:30 p.m. while leaving her Cabin No. 7 on the vessel's starboard side, when one or more fingers of her right hand were caught between the door of the cabin and the door jamb. The knob and lock were on the right hand side of the door as one faced the door from the corridor outside. The libelant, while standing in the corridor, after leaving her cabin, was grasping the door knob with her left hand and with her right hand was attempting to adjust the buttons in the door lock so that it would automatically lock when closed. While so doing, the vessel rolled toward starboard, causing libelant to push into the cabin holding onto the door to maintain her balance. When the vessel rolled to port, the libelant, still with her hands on the door in the position above described, was forced backwards to port out into the corridor, pulling the door with her until it closed on several fingers of her right hand and they were caught between the door and the jamb. It was a metal covered door of fireproof construction.

 13. As a result of the accident several fingers of her right hand were bruised and the right middle finger sustained compound fractures and was almost amputated near the terminal phalanx.

 14. The ship's surgeon, an employee of the claimant, was promptly called and responded, placing the libelant in her bed and, without the benefit of x-rays or other laboratory aids, with which the vessel was not equipped, straightened the finger out as well as possible; loosely sewed the skin into place; cleaned it up as well as possible, applied a sterile dressing and splint; and also treated the libelant for a mild state of shock with bed rest and a stimulant.

 15. At the time of libelant's injuries, the Santa Luisa was 20 hours from the Canal Zone, the nearest port.

 16. When the wound was examined and dressed gain by the ship's doctor on March 18th the distal fragment appeared viable and clean.

 17. Enroute to New York, the Santa Luisa put into the port of Charleston, South Carolina, at 0446 on March 19th as a port of call and departed from Charleston at 1828 the same day. The ship's doctor did not think it necessary that the libelant go ashore for medical treatment and he so advised the Captain.

 18. The ship's doctor dressed libelant's finger at 8:00 a.m. on March 20th. A mild infection, called pyocyaneus, was present, but otherwise the condition of the finger was satisfactory.

 19. The vessel arrived in New York on March 21st, at 0535. Passengers went ashore at 0850.

 20. Libelant went to a doctor in New York on the evening of March 21st. He gave her penicillin for her infected finger and ordered x-rays. The x-rays were taken March 24th and showed a comminuted fracture of the terminal phalanx of the middle right finger, with one fragment pointing about 30 degrees towards the lower aspect. She consulted another physician, at the suggestion of her doctor, on April 6th and his examination showed the several lacerations to be healed; that the flexion of the terminal joint was about 25 degrees from full extension, that the finger was only mildly thickened, and pain was not a prominent symptom. The consulting physician reported that she would get a sufficient range of painless motion in the terminal joint so as to be able to use her finger for any activity she was apt to engage in. An examination by respondent's doctor on September 23, 1949, showed that libelant has a permanent partial disability of the right middle finger of approximately 60% of the digit and that she can perform the duties of a governess or other similar work.

 21. Libelant had not been working prior to the time of the accident. She had been a housewife and was recently separated from her husband. Her medical expense totalled $ 115.

 22. During the voyage, the ship's doctor maintained a medical journal. He also helped prepare and signed the personal injury report on a regular form, which the Master also signed on March 19, 1949. A copy of the report was delivered to libelant aboard ship.

 23. At the conclusion of the voyage, the ship's surgeon personally reported the nature of libelant's injuries to the claimant (the owner of the vessel) through its Chief Medical Officer in New York.

 24. The ship's doctor did not bill or request payment from the libelant for the services which he rendered to her.

 25. The ship's doctor held a license from the United States Coast Guard qualifying and authorizing him to act as a ship's surgeon in the United States Merchant Marine. He was a competent surgeon with many years experience in hospitals and as a doctor in the United States Army.

 26. The vessel, including the door of libelant's cabin and the cabin's equipment, was in all respects seaworthy. No automatic door-check was required on the door of libelant's cabin. No handrail was required on the aft partition of libelant's cabin.

 27. There was no negligence on the part of the vessel or any of its personnel. The accident was caused solely by the libelant's use of a door, which was capable of movement, to support herself during the vessel's rolling.

 28. The libelant received prompt treatment by the ship's doctor on March 15th, shortly after the accident. The ship's doctor also treated libelant on March 18th and March 20th.

 29. There was no negligence on the part of the ship's doctor, either by way of omission or commission. His good judgment and medical attention saved the top of libelant's middle finger.

 30. Clause 5 of the Ticket-Contract (Exhibit "A") provided as follows:

 "The shipowner does not undertake to treat and care for the passenger medically. The shipowner undertakes, subject to circumstances beyond its control, only that any surgeon or medical practitioner who shall sail with the vessel as the 'ship's doctor' shall be a duly qualified physician who shall have agreed to render to the passenger upon the passenger's request such medical treatment and care as the physician may deem necessary, for which the physician shall be entitled to charge the passenger a reasonable fee. Insofar as the physician and those under his jurisdiction shall act, or fail to act, in the medical treatment or care of the passenger, they shall be considered as doing so solely for and on behalf of the passenger and not as agents of the shipowner. If there shall be such a doctor on board the vessel, any obligation of the shipowner to use reasonable care to provide the passenger with facilities for medical treatment and care, other than as hereinabove provided, shall not begin until the master of the vessel shall have received from the passenger written notice that the physician has failed to keep his agreement above-mentioned and the shipowner shall have had reasonable time, under the circumstances, to provide such facilities."

 Conclusions of Law

 I. This Court has jurisdiction of the subject matter of the libel, and of the vessel, the S.S. Santa Luisa, and of the claimant of the vessel, Grace Line, Inc.

 II. The injuries sustained by libelant on March 15, 1949 aboard the S.S. Santa Luisa were not caused by any unseaworthiness of the vessel or by any negligence of any officer or member of the crew of the vessel.

 III. The injuries sustained by libelant on March 15, 1949 were caused by the negligence of the libelant and the roll of the ship.

 IV. The ship's doctor, who was competent and experienced, was not negligent in the medical care and attention he gave the libelant after her injuries.

 V. Neither the S.S. Santa Luisa, nor the vessel's owner and operator, is liable for the injuries sustained by the libelant on March 15, 1949, or for the slight infection which later developed in her injured right middle finger.

 VI. The S.S. Santa Luisa and its claimant, Grace Line, Inc., are entitled to a decree dismissing, on the merits, all claims of the libel.

 VII. Let a decree be entered accordingly.


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