Kossick v. United Fruit Co.

RESPONDENT: United Fruit Co.
LOCATION: Trailways Bus Terminal

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 365 US 731 (1961)
ARGUED: Feb 20, 1961
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for Kossick v. United Fruit Co.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 1961 in Kossick v. United Fruit Co.

Earl Warren:

-- Kossick, Petitioner versus United Fruit Company.

Mr. Rassner.

Jacob Rassner:

Mr. Chief Justice, Justices of the Supreme Court.

The question upon which we seek instruction is just to what extent a ship owner owes a seaman the duty of maintenance and cure and whether or not the obligation may be terminated or delegated.

The court below has held that a ship owner's obligation to treat its sick or injured seamen is delegable by the expediency or by the method of tendering to a seaman a so called master certificate which is a paper signed by what the master, or one of the other officers, notifying a marine hospital that the bearer of that paper is eligible for treatment.

We hold that such decision is contrary to the authorities treating with the subject.

We believe that a ship owner's obligation for maintenance and cure just does not ceased by a mere tender of a piece of paper nor that they can delegate it by saying to somebody else, a marine hospital, “Gentlemen, this is your problem from here on.

We've given a piece of paper to our seaman.

We wash our hands of further obligation.

It's your duty.”

Another question which I think has been met and discussed many times by Judge Learned Hand as I've pointed out in my brief and I do not intend to repeat that which I have covered in the brief and by this Court that when we are dealing with a maritime composition, state law will not be permitted to alter, diminish or abolish the rights given to seamen.

There has been a great deal of talk about seamen now being represented by unions and they do not need the protection of the courts as wards of the Court.

But realistically and based on over 35 years of experience, I still consider them as just big overgrown boys, children, they need protection now just as much as years ago.

They --

William O. Douglas:

I have to pursue the petition -- what happened below?

Jacob Rassner:

The plaintiff, the petitioner here was a chief steward working for the United Fruit Line.

He had a goiter.

He had an illness and he retained Dr. Fricke as his surgeon to treat it.

He had had some experience with the marine hospital and was fearful of going back not knowing whether he'd get internist, a learner, a student or some experienced doctor to treat him.

He'd had some minor ailments in the past and was quite fearful.

He went to the United Fruit Line and said I will pay for my own doctor.

I've already retained him and I set forth the names of the people in debates in the amended complaint and in answers to interrogatories.

The United Fruit Line said, “You will not be permitted to hire your own doctor or we will stop your maintenance.

You go to the marine hospital.”

Obviously, the point was that if he went to his private doctor, his maintenance would continue because he does not get maintenance while in the marine hospital.

He wanted his maintenance.

He had no means.

He had no choice of freedom of bargaining.

So he discharged his own doctor and went to the marine hospital.

He says that but for a promise by the United Fruit Line to indemnify him for any damages, they had a lot of conversations, many and the substance of it was if there is anything that befalls you by reason of faulty treatment or lack of treatment, we will compensate you for all your damage or loss.