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SANCHEZ v. LUBECK LINIE A.G.

November 5, 1970

Ramon SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
LUBECK LINIE A.G., Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff, v. MAHER STEVEDORING COMPANY, Inc., Third-Party Defendant


Pollack, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLACK

OPINION AND DECISION

POLLACK, District Judge.

 The plaintiff, an experienced longshoreman, was injured on December 22, 1966 during the loading of the M.V. LUBECK while it was moored at a berth in Port Newark, Newark, New Jersey. He was lawfully aboard as an employee of Maher Stevedoring Company, Inc., the third party defendant. The latter was engaged in cargo operations aboard the vessel pursuant to a stevedoring contract between the defendant shipowner and Maher. The lower hold of hatch No. 1 had just been loaded and the gang of longshoremen were in the process of covering the hatch opening with a pontoon, which is a heavy sheet of steel about 3/4" thick and about 23' long and 5' wide. Each hatch was 25 to 30 feet long.

 Hatch No. 1 contains five lower holds. The lower holds have hatch openings for which pontoons were used as covers. The longshoremen came aboard on the morning of the accident to load the lower-most hold; they found that the pontoons at the forward end of the four hatch openings were in position. Having completed loading of the lower-most hold, it became necessary to cover the hatch opening at the fourth level where one pontoon was already in place at the forward end.

 The pontoon covers were stored on the upper deck and had to be passed through narrow openings to place them below. The winchman had to angle or tilt each sheet alternately from side to side to slide it through the openings. He did this by resting the pontoon on one side of the hatch opening and lowering the free side so that the pontoon was tilted and slid through into the next lower hatch opening. The process was repeated at each level.

 Two pontoons had been lowered that morning to the lowest level, so as to place a total of three in position. The next pontoon caused the mishap. It was lowered, employing the same method, but it struck the hatch coaming at the floor of the third level and was precipitated out of control into the fourth level of hatch No. 1 and came directly at the plaintiff who was working there. He put out his left hand to ward off the descending pontoon to avoid being hit on the body. The heavy pontoon carried his hand up against a part of the vessel, pinning and crushing it with resultant painful and crippling injuries to his left hand and fingers.

 The plaintiff charges that the proximate cause of this accident was the shipowner's failure to have controlling tag lines attached to the bridle used in lowering the pontoon and its consequent inability to guard against such an occurrence. The tag lines are ropes which hang down from the pontoon bridle. By manipulating them, the men can control the course of the heavy steel sheet, and direct it away from their bodies, during its downward progress to the hold in which the sheet must be placed. The plaintiff further charges that the defendant shipowner was negligent in permitting the use of a dangerous, unsafe and hazardous method of positioning the pontoons and in failing to stop the work until appropriate tag, or guide, lines were attached to control the heavy steel sheet being thus lowered, by alternately slanting its sides until it reached the desired position.

 Section 1504.42 of the Health and Safety Regulations for Longshoring instructs that pontoon bridles "shall not be used" unless:

 
(d) at least two legs of all strongback and pontoon bridles shall be equipped with a substantial fibre rope lanyard at least eight feet long and in good condition. The bridle end of the lanyard may be of chain or wire. 33 U.S.C. 941, 29 C.F.R. Part 1504, Eff. June 20, 1966.

 There is no doubt and the Court finds that the performance of the cargo operation was with inadequate equipment and by the use of a dangerous, unsafe method which created a hazard for the plaintiff and an unsafe situation in which to perform his work. The M.V. LUBECK was unseaworthy. Its unseaworthy condition proximately caused plaintiff's injuries. The plaintiff was not contributorily negligent and in no way caused his own injuries.

 Prior to the instant accident, the plaintiff had sustained injuries, some nine years earlier, in a factory, when a record making machine had amputated the middle three fingers of his right hand. He also injured his little finger and as a result had a permanent stiffness of the little finger.

 The accident on the M.V. LUBECK resulted in a compound transverse fracture of plaintiff's left thumb, the proximal phalanx (bone of the finger), with almost complete amputation. He developed a non-union which required a bone graft operation for the fracture of the proximal phalanx, but the bone graft incompletely canalized. He is unable to eat with his left hand and cannot tie his shoe laces because of the permanently partially flexed position of the interphalangeal joint. He suffers and will suffer numbness of the thumb, adhesions of the extensor and flexor apparatus which causes the interphalangeal joint to be in fixed partial flexion. He has lost 50 percent of the use of his left thumb which represents about 25 percent of the left hand; in terms of the entire upper extremity this represents approximately 17 1/2 percent of the arm. His injuries and various pain and suffering therefrom are permanent.

 The plaintiff was hospitalized from December 22 to December 24, 1966 and again from May 23 to May 31, 1967 and was totally disabled between the date of the accident, on December 22, 1966, and October 27, 1967. During this disability and intermittent lost time thereafter, his lost wages amounted approximately to $10,500. Plaintiff, at the time of the accident, was 44 years of age with a work expectancy of 24 years and a life expectancy of 27.7 years. He returned to work on October 27, 1967 with intermittent loss of time thereafter. However, the accident has left the plaintiff permanently crippled and impaired for heavy work.

 The plaintiff's damages, including all recoverable elements to the date hereof, involve, among other things, impairment and permanent injury resulting solely from the accident aboard the M.V. LUBECK, pain and suffering, and loss of wages. Plaintiff's damages are of the value of $30,000., ...


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