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Vella v. Ford Motor Co., 421 U.S. 1 (1975)

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American Government Topics:  Ford Motor Company

Vella v. Ford Motor Co., 421 U.S. 1 (1975)
United States Supreme Court

From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
 
Case:   VELLA V. FORD MOTOR CO.

Case #: 421US1


       VELLA V. FORD MOTOR CO.

        CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE

           SIXTH CIRCUIT

        NO. 73 - 1994.  ARGUED FEBRUARY 18 - 19, 1975--, DECIDED

           APRIL 15, 1975; 495 F.2D 1374, REVERSED AND REMANDED. 


    A SHIPOWNER'S DUTY TO FURNISH AN INJURED SEAMAN MAINTENANCE AND

  CURE CONTINUES FROM THE DATE THE SEAMAN LEAVES THE SHIP TO THE

  DATE WHEN A MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS IS MADE THAT HIS INJURY WAS

  PERMANENT INMEDIATELY AFTER HIS ACCIDENT AND THEREFORE

  INCURABLE.  PP 3 - 6. 

     BRENNAN, J., DELIVERED THE POINION FOR A UNANIMOUS COURT. 

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT. 

WE GRANTED CERTIORARI IN THIS CASE LIMITED TO THE QUESTION WHETHER A
SHIPOWNER'S DUTY TO FURNISH AN INJURED SEAMAN MAINTENANCE AND CURE
CONTINUES FROM THE DATE THE SEAMAN LEAVES THE SHIP TO THE DATE WHEN A
MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS IS MADE THAT THE SEAMAM'S INJURY WAS PERMANENT
IMMEDIATELY AFTER HIS ACCIDENT AND THEREFORE INCURABLE.  /1/  419 U.S.
984 (1974). 

PETITIONER WAS A SEAMAN ABOARD RESPONDENT'S GREAT LAKES VESSEL, S.S.
ROBERT S. MC NAMARA.  HE WAS DISCHARGED AND LEFT THE SHIP ON JUNE 29,
1968.  THEREAFTER HE FILED THIS SUIT IN THE DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN, SOUTHERN DIVISION, BASED ON A CLAIM THAT
ON APRIL 4, 1968, WHILE REPLACING A LOWER ENGINEROOM DECK PLATE, HE
SLIPPED AND FELL ON THE OILY FLOOR PLATE CAUSING HIS HEAD TO SUFFER A
SEVERE BLOW WHEN IT STRUCK AN ELECTRICAL BOX.  THE COMPLAINT INCLUDED A
COUNT, AMONG OTHERS, /2/ FOR MAINTENANCE AND CURE.  THE MEDICAL
TESTIMONY AT THE TRIAL WAS THAT PETITONER SUFFERED FROM A VESTIBULAR
DISORDER DEFINED AS DAMAGE TO THE BALANCING MECHANISM OF THE INNER
EAR.  THE TESTIMONY OF RESPONDENT'S MEDICAL WITNESS, DR. HEIL, AN
OTOLARYNGOLOGISE, SUPPLIED THE ONLY MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS AS TO THE TIME
WHEN THE DISORDER BECAME PERMANENT AND NOT SUSCIPTIBLE TO CURATIVE
TREATMENT.  DR. HEIL TESTIFIED ON APRIL 27, 1972, THAT HE HAD RECENTLY
EXAMINED PETITIONER.  HE CONCEDED THAT A SEVERE BLOW TO THE HEAD, SUCH
AS ALLEGED BY PETITIONER, COULD HAVE CAUSED THE DISORDER.  HE SAID,
HOWEVER, THAT THE DISORDER IS NOT A CONDITION THAT CAN BE CURED BY
TREATMENT.  /3/ THE JURY AWARDED PETITIONER MAINTENANCE AND CURE IN THE
AMOUNT OF $5,848.  RESPONDENT MOVED FOR A JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE
VERDICT ON THE GROUND THAT THE AWARD WAS NOT WITHIN THE PERMISSIBLE
SCOPE OF MAINTENANCE AND CURE.  THE DISTRICT COURT DENIED THE MOTION
AND STATED:  " WHILE IT IS TRUE THAT MAINTENANCE AND CURE IS NOT
AVAILABLE FOR A SICKNESS DECLARED TO BE PERMANENT."  APP. 20A.  THE
COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT REVERSED IN AN UNPUBLISHED
OPINION, SEE 495 F.2D 1374 (1974).  THE COURT OF APPEALS HELD THAT
"ONCE THE SEAMAN REACHES 'MAXIMUM MEDICAL RECOVERY.'  THE SHIPOWNER'S
OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE MAINTENANCE AND CURE CEASES,"  APP. 28A, AND
SINCE "(THE RECORD IN THIS CASE DOES NOT PERMIT AN INFERENCE OTHER THAN
THAT (PETITIONER'S) CONDITION WAS PERMANENT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE
ACCIDENT," ID., AT 29A, THE DISTRICT COURT'S HOLDING IMPERMISSIBLY
EXTENDED THE SHIPOWNER'S OBLIGATION. 

WE DISAGREE WITH THE COURT OF APPEALS AND THEREFORE REVERSE.  THE
SHIPOWNER'S ACCIENT DUTY TO PROVIDE MAINTENANCE AND CURE FOR THE SEAMAN
WHO BECOMES ILL OR IS INJURED WHILE IN THE SERVICE OF THE SHIP DERIVES
FROM THE "UNIQUE HAZARDS (WHICH) ATTEND THE WORK OF SEAMEN," AND
FOSTERS THE "COMBINED OBJECT OF ENCOURAGING MARINE COMMERCE AND
ASSURING THE WELL-BEING OF SEAMEN."  AGUILAR V. STANDARD OIL CO., 318
U.S. 724, 727 (1943).  TO FURTHER THAT "COMBINED OBJECT" WE HAVE HELD
THAT THE DUTY ARISES IRRESPECTIVE OF THE ABSENCE OF SHIPOWNER
NEGLIGENCE AND INDEED IRRESPTCTIVE OF WHETHER THE ILLNESS OR INJURY IS
SUFFERED IN THE COURSE OF THE SEAMAN'S EMPLOYMENT.  CALMAR S.S. CORP.
V. TAYLOR, 303 U.S. 525, 527 (1938).  AND, "(SO BROAD IS THE
SHIPOWNER'S OBLIGATION, . . . NEGLIGENCE OR ACTS SHORT OF CULPABLE
MISCONDUCT ON THE SEAMAN'S PART WILL NOT RELIEVE (THE SHIPOWNER) OF THE
RESPONSIBILITY."  AGUILAR V. STANDARD OIL CO., SUPRA, AT 730 - 731. 
THUS, THE BREADTH AND INCLUSIVENESS OF THE SHIPOWNER'S DUTY ASSURE ITS
EASY AND READY ADMINISTERATION FOR "(IT HAS FEW EXCEPTIONS OR
CONDITIONS TO STIR CONTENTIONS, CAUSE DELAYS, AND INVITE LITIGATIONS." 
FARRELL V. UNITED STATES, 336 U.S. 511, 516 (1949). 

DENIAL OF MAINTENANCE AND CURE WHEN THE SEAMAN'S INJURY, THOUGH IN
FACT PERMANENT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE ACCIDENT, IS NOT MEDICALLY
DIAGNOSED AS PERMANENT UNTIL LONG AFTER ITS OCCURRENCE WOULD OBVIOUSLY
DISSERVE AND FRUSTRATE THE "COMBINED OBJECT OF ENCOURAGING MARINE
COMMERCE AND ASSURING THE WELL-BEING OF SEAMEN."  A SHIPOWNER MIGHT
WITHHOLD VITALLY NECESSARY MAINTENANCE AND CURE ON THE BELIEF, HOWEVER
WELL OR POORLY FOUNDED, THAT THE SEAMAN'S INJURY IS PERMANENT AND
INCURABLE.  OR THE SEAMAN, IF PAID MAINTENANCE AND CURE BY THE
SHIPOWNER, MIGHT BE REQUIRED TO REIMBURSE THE PAYMENTS, IF IT IS LATER
DETERMINED THAT THE INJURY WAS PERMANENT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE
ACCIDENT.  THUS UNCERTAINTY WOULD DISPLACE THE ESSENTIAL CERTAINTY OF
PROTECTION AGAINST THE RAVAGES OF ILLNESS AND INJURY THAT ENCOURAGES
SEAMEN TO UNDERTAKE THEIR HAZARDOUS CALLING.  MOREOVER, EASY AND READY
ADMINISTRATION OF THE SHIPOWNER'S DUTY WOULD SERIOUSLY SUFFER FROM THE
INTRODUCTION OF COMPLEXITIES AND UNCERTAINTY THAT COULD "STIR
CONTENTIONS, CAUSE DELAYS, AND INVITE LITIGATIONS." 

THE SHIPOWNERS' LIABILITY CONVENTION, MADE EFFECTIVE FOR THE UNITED
STATES ON OCTOBER 29, 1939, FARRELL V. UNITED STATES, SUPRA, AT 517,
BUTTRESSES OUR CONCLUSION THAT THE DISTRICT COURT CORRECTLY HELD THAT
"MAINTENANCE AND CURE CONTINUE UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THE INCAPACITY IS
DECLARED TO BE PERMANENT."  /4/ THAT HOLDING TRACKS THE WORKING OF ART.
4, 1, OF THE CONVENTION WHICH PROVIDES:  " THE SHIPOWNER SHALL BE
LIABLE TO DEFRAY THE EXPENSE OF MEDICAL CARE AND MAINTENANCE UNTIL THE
SICK OR INJURED PERSON HAS BEEN CURED, OR UNTIL THE SICKNESS OR
INCAPACITY HAS BEEN DECLARED OF A PERMANENT CHARACTER."  54 STAT.
1696.  (EMPHASIS SUPPLIED.)  THE AIM OF THE CONVENTION "WAS NOT TO
CHANGE MATERIALLY AMERICAN STANDARDS BUT TO EQUALIZE OPERATING COSTS BY
RAISING THE STANDARDS OF MEMBER NATIONS TO THE AMERICAN LEVEL."  WARREN
V. UNITED STATES, 340 U.S. 523, 527 (1951).  THUS ART. 4, 1, IS
DECLARATORY OF A LONGSTANDING TRADITION RESPECTING THE SCOPE OF THE
SHIPOWNER'S DUTY TO FURNISH INJURED SEAMEN MAINTENANCE AND CURE, /5/
FARRELL V. UNITED STATES, SUPRA, AT 518, AND THEREFORE THE DISTRICT
COURT'S INTERPRETATION WAS CORRECT. 

THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF APPEALS IS REVERSED AND THE CASE IS
REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS CONSISTENT WITH THIS OPINION. 

                                  SO ORDERED. 

/1/ THIS QUESTION IS SUBSUMED IN QUESTION I PRESENTED IN THE
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI:  " IS A DISABLED SEAMAN WHO CONTRACTED
BY TRAUMA A PERMANENT DISEASE WHILE IN THE SERVICE OF A VESSEL ENTITLED
TO MAINTENANCE AND CURE PAYMENTS DURING THE INTERIM BETWEEN THE PERIOD
THE INCIDENT OCCURRED AND THE TIME THE DISEASE WAS MEDICALLY DIAGNOSED
AND PROCLAIMED INCURABLE?" 

/2/ PETITIONER ALSO SOUGHT DAMAGES UNDER COUNTS FOUNDED ON THE JONES
ACT, 41 STAT. 1007, 46 U.S.C. SEC. 688, AND ON UNSEAWORTHINESS UNDER
GENERAL MARITIME LAW.  THE COURT OF APPEALS AFFIRMED THE JUDGMENT IN
FAVOR OF RESPONDENT ENTERED ON A JURY VERDICT OF NO CAUSE FOR ACTION ON
EITHER COUNT.  WE DENIED REVIEW OF THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF APPEALS
IN RESPECT OF THAT AFFIRMANCE WHEN WE DENIED THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
CERTIORARI AS RESPECTS QUESTION II PRESENTED IN THE PETITION. 

/3/ WHEN ASKED WHETHER PETITIONER MIGHT BE CURED BY TREATMENT, DR.
HEIL TESTIFIED:  " NO, NOT REALLY.  TREATMENT IS PRIMARILY SYMPTOMATIC
FOR THIS CONDITION.  THAT IS, PEOPLE WITH A VESTIBULAR DISORDER ARE APT
TO HAVE INTERMITTENT EPISODE OF DIZZINESS WHICH, ON OCCASION, ARE
SOMEWHAT MORE SEVERE.  TREATMENT IS LIMITED TO THOSE TIMES WHEN THE
PATIENT IS PARTICULARLY DIZZY.  THEY CAN OBTAIN SOME SYMPTOMATIC RELIEF
WITH MEDICATION.  OTHER THAN THAT, THERE IS NO SPECIFIC CURE OR
TREATMENT." 

/4/ ON THIS RECORD MAINTENANCE AND CURE COULD HAVE BEEN CLAIMED TO
CONTINUE FROM JUNE 29, 1968, THE DATE PETITIONER LEFT THE VESSEL, TO
APRIL 27, 1972, THE DATE DR. HEIL TESTIFIED THAT THE VESTIBULAR
DISORDER WAS PERMANENT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE ACCIDENT AND NOT
SUSCEPTIBLE TO CURATIVE TREATMENT.  THE JURY, HOWEVER, AWARDED
PETITIONER MAINTENANCE AND CURE AT $8 PER DAY ONLY FOR THE PERIOD FROM
JUNE 29, 1968, TO JUNE 29, 1970.  PETITIONER'S APPEAL TO THE COURT OF
APPEALS DID NOT, HOWEVER, DRAW INTO QUESTION A CLAIM OF ENTITLEMENT TO
MAINTENANCE AND CURE FOR THE LONGER PERIOD.  APP. 25A.  IN THAT
CIRCUMSTANCE PETITIONER IS NOT ENTITLED TO THE RELEIF RESPECTING THE
LONGER PERIOD SOUGHT BY HIM IN THIS COURT, BRIEF FOR PETITIONER 19. 
SEE LE TULLE V. SCOFIELD, 308 U.S. 415, 421 - 422 (1940).  MOREOVER, IN
LIGHT OF OUR HOLDING THAT THE SHIPOWNER'S DUTY CONTINUED UNTIL DR.
HEIL'S TESTIMONY, IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO ADDRESS THE QUESTION WHETHER
THE JURY AWARD MIGHT ALSO BE SUSTAINED ON THE GROUND THAT THE
SHIPOWNER'S DUTY IN ANY EVENT OBLIGED HIM TO PROVIDE PALLIATIVE MEDICAL
CARE TO ARREST FURTHER PROGRESS OF THE CONDITION OR TO REDUCE PAIN, AND
WE INTIMATE NO VIEW WHATEVER UPON THE SHIPOWNER'S DUTY IN THAT REGARD. 
COMPARE WARD V. UNION BARGE LINE CORP., 443 F.2D 565 572 (CA3 1971),
WITH THE OPINION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS IN THIS CASE.  APP. 29A N. 1. 
NOR DO WE EXPRESS ANY VIEW WHETHER A SEAMAN MAY FORFEIT HIS RIGHT TO
MAINTENANCE AND CURE BY NOT REPORTING A KNOWN INJURY OR MALADY, OR BY
REFUSING FROM THE OUTSET TO ALLOW PROPER MEDICAL EXAMINATION, OR BY
DISCONTINUING MEDICAL CARE MADE AVAILABLE. 

/5/ SEE DESMOND V. UNITED STATES, 217 F.2D 948, 950 (CA2 1954):  "
THE SHIPOWNER IS LIABLE FOR MAINTENANCE AND CURE ONLY UNTIL THE DISEASE
IS CURED OR RECOGNIZED AS INCURABLE" (EMPHASIS SUPPLIED); VITCO V.
JONCICH, 130 F.SUPP.  945, 649 (SD CAL. 1955), AFF'D, 234 F.2D 161 (CA9
1956):  " THE SHIPOWNERS OBLIGATION TO FURNISH MAINTENANCE IS
COEXTENSIVE IN TIME WITH HIS DUTY TO FURNISH CURE . . . AND NEITHER
OBLIGATION IS DISCHARGED UNTIL THE EARLIEST TIME WHEN IT IS REASONABLY
AND IN GOOD FAITH DETERMINED BY THOSE CHARGED WITH THE SEAMAN'S CARE
AND TREATMENT THAT THE MAXIMUM CURE REASONABLY POSSIBLE HAS BEEN
EFFECTED" (EMPHASIS SUPPLIED). 

IT IS THEREFORE UNNECESSARY TO ADDRESS THE CONFLICT BETWEEN
COMMENTATORS WHETHER THE CONVENTION IS APPLICABLE TO GREAT LAKES
SHIPPING.  COMPARE G. GILMORE & C. BLACK, THE LAW OF ADMIRALTY 323 (2D
ED. 1975) (" EVIDENTLY THE CONVENTION WAS NOT TO APPLY TO . . . GREAT
LAKES SHIPPING"), WITH 4 E. BENEDICT, ADMIRALTY 296 (6TH ED. 1940)
("(THE CONVENTION WOULD SEEM TO APPLY TO THE GREAT LAKES, WHICH ARE NOT
'INLAND WATERS' IN THE USUAL SENSE.  . .").  THE UNITED STATES'
RESERVATION TO THE CONVENTION PROVIDES: "(THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT
UNDERSTANDS AND CONSTRUES THE WORDS 'MARITIME NAVIGATION'  APPEARING IN
THIS CONVENTION TO MEAN NAVIGATION ON THE HIGH SEAS ONLY9"  54 STAT.
1704. 

LEONARD C. JAQUES ARGUED THE CAUSE AND FILED A BRIEF FOR
PETITIONER. 

JOHN A. MUNDELL, JR., ARGUED THE CAUSE AND FILED A BRIEF FOR
RESPONDENT.



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