Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation v. Pfeifer

PETITIONER: Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

DOCKET NO.: 82-131
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 462 US 523 (1983)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1983

Jerome M. Libenson - on behalf of the Respondent
Robert W. Murdoch - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case

This judicial precedent lies in the plane of the labor law, namely, the order of compensation for injuries at work. Occupational injury (or it is also called an accident at work) is the damage that the employee received during working hours on the premises of the enterprise or by executing an order from the Manager outside the workplace. In this case brief, PFEIFER was injured while working on the ship of the company JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL CORP.

As a result of the injury, he lost the opportunity to return to work or perform an easier job within his workplace. According to the victim, his injury was triggered by the negligence of the employer. The District Court found him right and ordered a compensation payment, which was calculated without taking into account inflation. The amount of compensation included the defendant's expected salary that would have been accrued to him before retirement if he could continue working on the enterprise. Moreover, the court also decided to award compensation to the injured employee, recognizing that the wound was received due to the negligence of the employer.

Thus, this case brief establishes a precedent in the framework of labor law and affirms the provision that payments that are assessed as prospective are calculated without taking into account inflation, and the standard unit of wages of the employee for a certain period is taken as the basic unit of calculation. This also suggests that compensation for injury as a consequence of negligence does not cancel compensation for lost wages.


Media for Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation v. Pfeifer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1983 in Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation v. Pfeifer

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Jones and Laughlin Steel against Pfeifer.

Mr. Murdoch, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert W. Murdoch:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case is before you on a writ of certiorari from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and presents two questions for your consideration.

The first question being the interpretation of some of the provisions under Section 905(a), 905(b), and 933 of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act.

The second question is a question regarding major damages which was applied by the lower court and affirmed by the Third Circuit in this particular case.

By way of background, the respondent was an employee of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation.

He had worked for them on the rivers, particularly on the Monongahela River for Jones & Laughlin for many years.

He was entitled as having the duties of being a barge helper and barge handler.

In doing so, he would go out and he would work with the barges.

So that you are aware of the situation, on the Monongahela River Jones & Laughlin had two landings.

The first landing had an elevator which they would take these barges, and the barges being approximately 175 feet long, 26 feet wide, under the coal elevator.

This would then empty the barge as the coal goes into the metal freeze, and persons like Mr. Pfeifer would then be in charge of taking care of the fleet as the empty barges would be moved down to the other fleet.

Mr. Pfeifer was injured on February 13, 1978, at which time he came out to work on the midnight shift.

He did not work his normal job at that time, his normal job was a Class 7 job, but as he would do from time to time, he would come out and he worked as a headman, this was a Class 13 as far as the pay is concerned.

In that position Mr. Pfeifer was in charge of two other individuals and these three individuals on that particular shift would then go out and take care of the barges.

By taking care of the barges, they would make sure that the lashings were tight.

If it was necessary to pump out any barges which were taking on water, this was one of their duties.

Also incumbent upon Mr. Pfeifer and the people he was working with was to make sure that the gunnels, which would be the walkways on the barges, and the deck-ends where the people would walk would be free and clear of snow.

As I say, Mr. Pfeifer came out to work at midnight on this particular shift, and sometime later, 3:00 a.m., or 4:00 a.m., while going out with two other individuals to pump a barge, he slipped on some ice and snow that had been accumulated on the barge and injured his back.

As a result of that incident, then, Mr. Pfeifer did sign the proper forms for getting payments under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act.

I think it is important for you to know as a Court that Jones & Laughlin has been paying Mr. Pfeifer for the compensation benefits as called for under this Act ever since the date of the accident.

At the time of the trial in this particular case in which there was a final verdict rendered against Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation in the amount of approximately $275,000, there was a set off which was approximately $33,000 for the compensation benefits which had been made to Mr. Pfeifer as of the date of the trial.

I believe it is also important for you to know that even today as I stand here arguing this case before you, we are still making payments under the Compensation Act as called for.

I think this is relatively important because 905(a) of the Longshoremen's and Harbor Worker's Act sets forth what we refer to as the exclusivity provision, which states basically that a person injured under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Worker's Act has exclusive remedies to receive compensation from the employer.

This is why I pointed out that under these circumstances we have been and in fact are still paying because as Jones & Laughlin looks at and reviews the exclusivity provision, we feel that that is the only basis that an employee is to receive benefits from the employer.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

That would be traditional in those workmen's compensation type claims.

But what do you do with the language of this Court in the Edmonds case which seems to have rejected your position, and in this limited situation would say that the ship owner is still liable both under the underlying tort claim and as under the Act.

Robert W. Murdoch:

I think, Justice O'Connor--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you think that we were in error in Edmonds?