Sentilles v. Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corporation

PETITIONER: Sentilles
RESPONDENT: Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corporation
LOCATION: Approximately half-way between Santa Marta, Colombia and Miami. Florida (by water)

DOCKET NO.: 6
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 361 US 107 (1959)
ARGUED: Oct 19, 1959
DECIDED: Nov 23, 1959

ADVOCATES:
Milton Kelner - for the Petitioner
Robert J. Beckham - for the Repondent

Facts of the case

In April of 1953, Daniel J. Sentilles, an engineer specializing in marine refrigeration, left the port of Santa Mara, Colombia, aboard the S.S. Montego to assist the ship in transporting bananas to Miami, Florida. The ship experienced rough waters during the journey, and on one occasion, Sentilles was knocked off his feet and washed across the deck by a large wave. The next day he developed a cough and other flu-like symptoms that persisted for several days. From Miami, he traveled to New Orleans, where he was treated for an acute case of pulmonary tuberculosis. Sentilles sued the owner of the S.S. Montego, the Inter-Shipping Corporation (“Shipping”), in federal district court under the Jones Act, which regulates U.S. shipowners. Sentilles argued that the accident aboard the S.S. Montego activated or aggravated a dormant tuberculosis infection. At trial, three medical specialists suggested that the accident could have caused the tuberculosis flare-up. A jury found in favor of Sentilles and awarded him $20,000 in damages. On appeal, Shipping argued that the evidence did not justify the jury’s conclusion. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted Shipping’s argument and reversed the judgment. Sentilles argued that the appellate court applied an improper standard of review by failing to consider the reasonableness of the judgment reached by the jury.

Question

Should the appellate court limit its review to the reasonableness of an inference or conclusion drawn by a jury?

Media for Sentilles v. Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1959 in Sentilles v. Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corporation

Earl Warren:

Number 6, Daniel J. Sentillies versus Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corporation.

Mr. Kelner, you may proceed.

Milton Kelner:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I represent the plaintiff in the trial court.

The seaman was injured abroad ship.

After a verdict before jury and the District Court under the Jones Act, the verdict was affirmed on post trial motions by the United States District Court Judge.

On appeal by the defendant, this verdict was reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court by a 2-to-1 decision and opinion.

There is a dissenting opinion written by that Court.

The issue presented to that Court and presented to this Court is, did the plaintiff present at the trial sufficient evidence that his fall aboard ship contributed to activate or aggravate this pre-existing dormant tuberculosis.

The facts basically were these.

This man was aboard ship as an engineer, the weather was rough, and the emergency arose whereby he had to attend to refrigeration engine in the forward portion of the vessel.

Safety lines had not been strong on his way back after having taken care of the fire.

The vessel suddenly fell away from under him, the -- the 20-foot wave at vessel is toasting at a 15 to 20 degree angle.

When he fell, he fell on his left side injuring his side, his hip, his head, his shoulder, his leg.

A wave swept over him, washing him at distance of approximately 24 feet, and unfortunately, his legs were spreadly -- was caught on the chain at the edge of the vessel.

In the process, he inhaled water.

Before this accident, he had felt well and knew nothing whatsoever about any chest difficulties, chest complaints or tuberculosis.

Immediately after this accident, he felt badly, he had a cough, a heavy cold, he felt as tough he had the flu.

The ship was tree days out of port, the Port of Miami, and in those three days, the capital of the vessel treated him with pills, penicillin, treated him for this heavy cough, heavy cold.

When he hit the Port of Miami, he thought all he had was a cold from being washed by the water and the blow to the side which restricted his breathing and so on.

And he went up to New York.

He was at the Hotel New York and couldn't shake the colds and went to see the hotel doctor up there.

The doctor examined him so that he had a flu at level in his lungs and said that he needed hospitalization immediately.

The plaintiff returned to his home in New Orleans, went to see his family doctor.

Now, his family doctor had examined him regularly, no less than five or six times in the year before the accident.

X-rays of this man's chest take him as recently as too much before he fell, had fail to disclose any tuberculosis.

On re-examination of this X-rays, however, there was found to be a small infiltration, a small healed tubercular lesion that was missed on the initial examination.

Now, it is to be noticed that in this factual situation, the healed tubercular lesion, small one, was on the left side and the left lung.

This man found, received those (Inaudible) on the left side, left side of his lung.

The tuberculosis, when it developed, full-blown tuberculosis was in his left lung.