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STREHLE v. UNITED STATES

August 5, 1994

LORETTE STREHLE, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Richard Francis Meyer, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VINCENT L. BRODERICK

 VINCENT L. BRODERICK, U.S.D.J.

 I

 This admiralty suit against the United States brought under the Public Vessels Act (46 USC 781), the Jones Act (46 USC App 688) and the Death on the High Seas Act (46 USC 761-62), involves the death of Seaman Richard Frances Meyer ("Meyer") on board a United States Navy vessel caused by entrapment in ropes being spun by a winch.

 On March 7, 1994 the court approved a stipulation of the parties providing in part:

 
1. A submission will be made to the Court . . . by both parties on stipulated facts, to the extent feasible, and through affidavits, deposition testimony, written expert reports and other evidence to the extent not covered by stipulation. Presentation of live testimony is not necessary except to the extent found so by the court.
 
2. If the Court finds liability on the material submitted, the court will then determine damages based on the material provided by the parties and enter judgment accordingly.
 
3. If the Court cannot make an affirmative finding of liability based on the information provided, the Court will inform the parties that further submissions will be necessary to render a final judgment as to that matter. In that event, further litigation steps are not waived . . . and such matters would remain open for consideration as counsel deems necessary.

 The parties thereafter filed a stipulation of facts attached to this memorandum order as Appendix A, and other materials. The facts set forth in Appendix A, whether or not repeated here, are found to be true. This memorandum order constitutes findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52.

 Factual findings of the United States Coast Guard investigation are also deemed admissible under Fed.R.Evid. 803(8); see Beech Aircraft Corp v. Rainey, 488 U.S. 153, 102 L. Ed. 2d 445, 109 S. Ct. 439 (1988). By contrast, Coast Guard investigators' opinions and conclusions are not considered in order to prevent the fear of financial liability to lead investigators or other such report makers to downplay errors committed which require correction. See Reliable Transfer Co v. United States, 53 F.R.D. 24 (EDNY 1971) and authorities cited.

 The basic facts are undisputed, and based upon them the United States is liable based upon both negligence and unseaworthiness of the vessel. Plaintiff is awarded $ 28,600 for loss of income to Meyer's dependents and $ 50,000 for pain and suffering experienced by Meyer while trapped in the winch.

 II

 The basic facts not in dispute, some of which are set forth in greater detail in Appendix A, include the following: Meyer was born in 1953. After serving as a Navy Petty Officer, and thereafter as a civilian seaman, Meyer was killed on December 1, 1991 while performing his duties on the M/V Cape Horn, a vessel built in Norway in 1979 and owned by the United States. Operated at the time of the accident by Interocean Management Corporation of Philadelphia, Pa, the vessel was approximately 750 feet in length, with a breadth of 106 feet.

 On the day of the accident the vessel was moored off Saudi Arabia in connection with Operation Desert Storm. Meyer attempted to retract on a spool a rope line controlled by a power winch designed to feed such rope in and out. The winch is built so that it ...


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