Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc.

PETITIONER: Mitchell
RESPONDENT: Trawler Racer, Inc.
LOCATION: District Court for the District Court of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 176
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 362 US 539 (1960)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 1960
DECIDED: May 16, 1960

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1960 in Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc.

Earl Warren:

Number 176, Frank C. Mitchell, Petitioner, versus Trawler Racer, Inc.

Mr. Katz, you may proceed.

Morris D. Katz:

Mr. Chief Justice and Associate Justices of this Honorable Court.

This is a seaman's case and it comes here on a certiorari from the First Circuit.

The facts of the case are this, substantially.

Mr. Mitchell, the petitioner, as a seaman and a fisherman and a member of the crew of a fishing vessel, Racer, which is a fishing trawler out of Boston.

In April 1957, he was a member of her crew and at that time, she came back to Boston after having made a 10-day fishing trip to the fishing grounds.

In accordance with the usual practice, the catch was then to be unloaded.

During the spawning season, there is both spawn and fish to be unloaded and in accordance with the custom, the spawn is unloaded first.

On that day, the spawn was unloaded by the deckhands and in the unloading of the spawn, Mr. Mitchell, the petitioner, worked in the hold of the vessel.

When the spawn was unloaded and in accordance with custom, the dock and the deck and the rail are customarily washed down and those of the crew who wish to go home, then do so and the balance of the catch is taken out by those of the crew who wish to work and other persons who are hired to do the job, people known as “lumpers”.

On that particular day when Mr. Mitchell, the petitioner, finished his work in the hold, he came up on deck and then proceeded to the (Inaudible) where he change his clothes, his working clothes, changing into his shore clothes, came back up on deck, intending to go ashore.

And in further accordance with custom, he stepped up from the deck onto to the rail of the vessel which was alongside the wharf, intending from there to grasp a ladder which is attached to the side of the wharf and in that manner, to make his way ashore.

When the petitioner stepped onto the rail of this vessel and was reaching for the ladder, he slipped in some, what he described as slime and gurry.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Mr. Katz, was that a slip on the rail?

Morris D. Katz:

He slipped when he stood on the rail as he was reaching for the ladder.

Charles E. Whittaker:

The rail was -- was covered in slime?

Morris D. Katz:

Yes, sir.

Charles E. Whittaker:

(Inaudible)

Morris D. Katz:

The evidence will show 10 to 12 feet of it, I believe.

As he reached for the ladder and was standing on the rail, he slipped.

And to keep himself from falling between the vessel and the dock into the water, he thrust his arm through a rung of the ladder and he hanged there for a brief period until he was able to work his back -- way back to safety aboard the vessel.

When he hanged there by his arm, he suffered serious permanent injury to his arm.

This case was tried in the District Court of Massachusetts and there were three counts.

The first count was for negligence under the Jones Act, the second count for unseaworthiness and the third, for maintenance and cure.

The jury returned the verdict for the defendant on the first two counts and for the plaintiff on the third count and it was in charging the jury, that the judge stated what the petitioner considers to have been the error in the case.

He stated that notice was not -- notice was -- he stated that notice was necessary with respect to both the unseaworthiness and the negligence counts.

He stated that the -- he made no distinction between the charge with respect to negligence and unseaworthiness and charge that in order to recover on either count, the petitioner had to show that the slime was on the rail for a period of time long enough for the respondent to have known about it and to have the opportunity to remove it.

Counsel for the petitioner made an oral request that the Court distinguish in his charge between negligence and unseaworthiness and in particular requested the Court to instruct the jury that insofar as the unseaworthiness count was concerned, notice was not a necessary element.

The trial judge denied the request.