Vella v. Ford Motor Company

PETITIONER: Julian Vell
RESPONDENT: Ford Motor Company
LOCATION: SS Robert McNamara

DOCKET NO.: 73-1994
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 421 US 1 (1975)
ARGUED: Feb 18, 1975 / Feb 19, 1975
DECIDED: Apr 15, 1975
GRANTED: Oct 21, 1974

ADVOCATES:
John A. Mundell, Jr. - for respondent
Leonard C. Jaques - for petitioner

Facts of the case

Julian Vella, a seaman on the SS Robert MacNamara, suffered a severe head injury while doing a repair on the ship. This caused damage to Vella’s inner ear, making it difficult for him to balance. Doctors ruled the condition permanent and incurable. A jury awarded Vella maintenance and cure for his injury. The district court denied the ship owner’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The ship owner argued that because the injury was permanent, maintenance and cure was not permissible. The appellate court reversed.

Question

Is the ship owner required to pay maintenance and cure to a seaman who was injured on the job, even though his injury is permanent?

Media for Vella v. Ford Motor Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1975 in Vella v. Ford Motor Company
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 18, 1975 in Vella v. Ford Motor Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 15, 1975 in Vella v. Ford Motor Company

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 73-1994, Vella against Ford Motor Company will be announced by Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This case is here from the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The question is whether a shipowner's duty to furnish maintenance and cure to a seaman who suffers an incurable injury aboard ship continues from the date the seaman leaves the ship to the date when a medical diagnosis is made that his injury was in fact incurable when he left the ship.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the shipowner's duty did not continue after but terminated when the seaman left the ship.

We unanimously reverse.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Brennan.