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HARROD v. UNITED STATES

August 9, 1951

HARROD
v.
UNITED STATES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

This is an action brought by the libelant under the Public Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 781 et seq., which makes applicable the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.A. § 688.

I am satisfied here that the libelant is entitled to recover. I am satisfied that the testimony of the libelant as to conditions aboard this vessel is truthful and reliable testimony, particularly as it is supported by the testimony of the witness Morgan, who testified in open court, and the witness Feinman, who testified by deposition, both of whom at times slept or were quartered in the same room and slept on the same bunk, had the same troubles- terms of uncomfortable, damp, drafty, cold conditions- as the libelant described occurring when he lived in these quarters, particularly the second set of quarters aft on E-deck of the Usat General Leroy Eltinge.

 I have seen fit to adopt the testimony of the libelant, who gives every indication of telling the truth and of not exaggerating, being very careful and precise, and of the witness Morgan, who testified in open court and as corroborated by the libelant's witness Feinman, who testified by deposition, and also corroborated by the respondent's witness who testified by deposition, the Second Steward Cullerton, and the witness Anderson. It might not be amiss at this point to refer to testimony of libelant's immediate superior Cullerton, the Second Steward, who stated that libelant was an excellent workman, dependable, always neat and clean, and a person of clean habits. Powers, the Chief Steward, testified that to his knowledge the man had no bad habits.

 I find that the quarters to which libelant was first assigned on E-deck forward were occupied by him approximately three months, and that during the period of his occupancy the ventilation in these quarters was inadequate and it was not possible to obtain proper heat, and that by reason of the inadequate treatment with cork paint or other material on the bulkhead or skin of the ship moisture condensed therein and the general atmosphere of the room was drafty, cold and damp. That he moved from these quarters to others assigned him aft on the same deck.

 If find from the undisputed record here that this young man- a citizen of African descent- was accepted by the Army Transport Service in 1949 after extensive examination by the respondent, including a chest X-ray, as a person in good health and suitable for handling food and thus he was employed as a waiter or steward aboard this vessel. The record of the history of his medical examinations previously to the one given him at the time of his employment, indicated that he was in normal good health. However, I am satisfied from the testimony of the libelant, supported, as I have said, by the testimony of the witnesses whom I have named, that the libelant was adversely affected by the living conditions assigned to him aboard this vessel.

 I find specifically that the heating and ventilating system was defective particularly with respect to the aft quarters on E-deck which this man occupied. I find that in this room the cork paint on the bulkhead or skin of the ship was inadequate to keep the moisture from condensing upon the wall or side of the ship and thus the condensed moisture caused the room to be continually damp.

 I am further satisfied that this unhealthy condition was aggravated by a leak in a joint in a pipe overhead and above the libelant's top bunk on the inboard side of this room, which dripping elbow had not only made other occupants of this bunk uncomfortable and induced them to move whenever another bed became vacant, but in this particular instance especially made this libelant uncomfortable and interfered with his ability to sleep and made him restless and caused a loss of sleep and the fact that the bedding became damp and wet and uncomfortable despite his continual changing of the linens and blankets.

 As previously mentioned, the ventilators overhead in this room were above the libelant's bunk, which I am now describing. The ventilating system was inadequate in that it was not possible, due to its defective conditions, for these outlets in this room to regulate either the heat or the cold and, consequently, more of less continual draft was upon the person occupying this upper bunk.

 I further find that it was not possible for the libelant to move from this bed until such a time as a bed elsewhere became available, and that when such did happen the plaintiff did move to another bed in this aft room and still later moved entirely from the room to a smaller room in the Cooks' Department.

 I find that the libelant and prior occupants of this bed and of the quarters fore and aft which the libelant occupied had previously complained about the ventilating condition- about the dampness, which was corroborated by the testimony of the Second Steward Cullerton, but that despite routine inspections nothing was done about the complaints nor was anything deemed to be out of order by these routine inspections. It was, of course, the rule of the master of the ship that for inspection purposes the rooms be tidied up. Consequently, on the occasions of inspection they looked neat and clean for the floor of this particular aft quarters had been mopped up, and thus the condensed water from the walls had been taken care of for the purposes of inspection and the defect, in the Court's opinion, was not then and there particularly noticeable, nor was the dripping of the elbow of the pipe over the libelant's bunk.

 Turning to the respondent's case, I want to say that I am accepting the libelant and his two witnesses' testimony and not accepting the testimony of the Government's witnesses, particularly the two Captains of this vessel during the time the libelant was a steward aboard this vessel, because I am satisfied that the bulk of the respondent's witnesses, and as attested by them generally, have little specific recollection of the conditions, if they had known them originally, which obtained in the quarters that the libelant occupied. As to the officers generally, they, too, took more or less a defensive attitude with respect to their ship being in first-class condition, which is an understandable attitude. The inspections that they refer to were, I am satisfied, pretty much routine affairs and only the big things that stood out like sore thumbs were tended to or accorded treatment when in need of repairs.

 When we come down to specifics, particularly the two witnesses of the libelant, I find that the two men, Morgan and Feinman, who previously lived in this room and bunked aft prior to the libelant's occupancy of the top bunk- the second room- evidenced convincing knowledge of what they were talking about and so too generally does the Second Steward Cullerton, whose business it was to come in direct contact- have general direct charge of the stewards.

 As to Captain MacMillan, he satisfied me as being a very truthful witness, except that his testimony is very general, for that reason lacking specific detail as to the situation which is here in issue. That is why I dismiss his testimony as interesting but ...


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