Federal District Court Opinions

WRIGHT, Plaintiff, v. MAERSK LINE, LTD., Defendant. 99 Civ.
11282 (LMM) (AJP) United States District Court, S.D. New
York. January 23, 2001 (nunc pro tunc to 1/9/01)


ANDREW J. PECK, United States Magistrate Judge:

Plaintiff William Wright has sued defendant Maersk Line for
negligence and unseaworthiness as a result of the decision
of the vessel’s Captain and Chief Mate to put Wright ashore
on the island of St. Helena for medical treatment, which,
plaintiff claims, resulted in him receiving poor medical
treatment and being stranded on the island for a
considerable period of time.

Defendant Wright has moved for summary judgment. The
parties have consented to decision of the summary judgment
motion (but not to trial of the action), by a Magistrate
Judge. (Dkt. No. 24.)[fn1] For the reasons set forth below,
defendant’s summary judgment motion is DENIED on the
negligence claim but GRANTED on plaintiff’s unseaworthiness
claim, and the parties are to file the Joint Proposed
Pretrial Order by February 9, 2001.


In December 1996, Wright was employed as an electrician on
defendant’s vessel the PFC James Anderson Jr. (hereafter,
the “Vessel”). (Wright Aff. at 1; Hyde Aff. § 2.) On
December 26, 1997, while the Vessel was at sea proceeding
from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to Puerto
Rico, Wright informed the Vessel’s Chief Mate (and Medical
Officer) Paul Hyde that he was jaundiced and had abdominal
pain. (Wright Aff. at 2; Hyde Aff. § 2; medical log
for 12/26/97 (attached as Hyde Aff. Ex. A at 1 & Wright
Aff. Ex. C at 1).) Hyde monitored Wright’s condition and
consulted with Medical Advisory Systems (“MAS”), an on-call
medical service staffed by medical doctors to provide
medical advice to ships at sea. (Hyde Aff. §§
3-5; Wright Aff. at 2; see also medical log and record of
communications with MAS (attached as Hyde Aff. Ex. A &
Wright Aff. Exs. C, D).) Wright does not complain about the
medical care he received on the Vessel. (See generally
Wright Aff.)

Dr. Babaturk of MAS recommended that Wright be landed,
i.e., put ashore, on the island of St. Helena, and he
contacted the Hospital there to make arrangements for
Wright’s medical care. (Philips Aff. § 2; Hyde Aff.
§ 5.)

Defendant Maersk contends that the decision to land Wright
at St. Helena was proper because “St. Helena was . . . the
nearest location with medical facilities and the Vessel
could arrive there sooner than any other location . . .
[while] Ascension Island had a sailing time of
approximately forty additional hours past St. Helena.”
(Maersk Br. at 3, citing Phillips Aff. § 2 & Hyde
Aff. § 5.) Plaintiff Wright, in contrast, claims
that the Vessel was negligent in putting him ashore at St.
Helena rather than Ascension Island:

St. Helena has no airport and the only way off the island
was by a boat which came every 28 days, and which had just
left. I, like Napoleon, was in exile. I was confined to a
“hospital” with facilities probably dating back to his
stay on the island. The horror of my “imprisonment” on St.
Helena was matched only by the [poor] quality of the
medical care. . . . I was discharged from the hospital on
January 2, 1998 after an ultrasound found me to be fit for
duty, this ultrasound is particularly significant because
it is absent.

I then waited until January 24, 1998 until the boat came
to take me to Ascension Island where there is a United
States Airforce base. I was flown back to the United
States by way of Antigua and arrived home on February 2nd
very, very sick.

It is apparent that the Captain should have put me ashore
on Ascension Island which was only about 700 miles
further, 24 to 48 hours sailing time. The maritime expert
hired by my attorneys advises me of what I already knew
and what the Captain should have known: that Ascension not
only has a USAF base, but also an RAF base, and above all
real medical facilities and an airport. I would have
received literally “top flight” medical evaluation and
been flown home to the proper and much needed care. . . .
I lost my health and the ability to work at sea at my
job. . . .

(Wright Aff. at 2-3; see also 10/22/00 Report of Plaintiff’s
Expert, Dr. Lucak.)


For a discussion of the relevant summary judgment legal
standards, see, e.g., Freeman v. Strack, 99 Civ. 9878, 2000
WL 1459782 at *4 (S.D.N Y Sept. 29, 2000) (Peck, M.J.);
Djonbalic v. City of New York, 99 Civ. 11398, 2000 WL
1146631 at *3-4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2000) (Peck, M.J.).

The negligence legal standard is not in dispute. As
defendant expressed it, a “vessel owner does have the duty
to provide proper medical treatment to seamen falling ill
or suffering injury in the service of the ship. . . . The
scope of the duty in an individual case depends on the
`circumstances of each case — the seriousness of the
injury or illness and the availability of aid.'” (Maersk
Br. at 6, citing The Iroquois, 194 U.S. 240, 241-43, 24
S.Ct. 640, 641-62 (1904), & quoting DeZon v. American
President Lines, Ltd., 318 U.S. 660, 667-68, 63 S.Ct. 814,
819 (1942); see also Wright Br. at 3-5.)

There are disputed issues of fact as to whether the
decision to land Wright at St. Helena as opposed to
Ascension Island was negligent or prudent. Indeed, in
justifying why it was not necessary to helicopter Wright
off the Vessel, Maersk notes that Wright’s “symptoms were in
no way life threatening and . . . [h]is condition did not
deteriorate during the December 26 through December 29 time
period,” i.e., the period from his first complaint of
illness until arrival at St. Helena. (See Maersk Br. at 8.)
Since the Vessel felt that Wright “was suffering from an
apparent non-life threatening, flu-like illness” (Maersk Br.
at 8-9), it is not clear why Maersk could not have waited
the one to two days until the Vessel reached Ascension
Island. Because of conflicting testimony and the paucity of
evidence, defendant’s summary judgment motion is denied as
to plaintiff’s negligence claim.

Defendant is, however, entitled to summary judgment on
plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim. Plaintiff’s only claim
of unseaworthiness is the claimed negligence of the Captain
and Chief Mate in putting plaintiff Wright ashore at St.
Helena instead of Ascension Island. (Wright Br. at 6-8.)

The Supreme Court has recognized the distinction, however,
between claims of negligence and unseaworthiness:

[T]he Court has repeatedly taken pains to point out that
liability based upon unseaworthiness is wholly distinct
from liability based upon negligence. The reason, of
course, is that unseaworthiness is a condition, and how
that condition came into being — whether by
negligence or otherwise — is quite irrelevant to
the owner’s liability for personal injuries resulting from

* * *

What caused the petitioner’s injuries in the present
case, however, was not the condition of the ship, her
appurtenances, her cargo, or her crew, but the isolated,
personal negligent act of the petitioner’s fellow
longshoreman. To hold that this individual act of
negligence rendered the ship unseaworthy would be to
subvert the fundamental distinction between
unseaworthiness and negligence that we have so
painstakingly and repeatedly emphasized in our decisions.

Usner v. Luckenbach Overseas Corp., 400 U.S. 494, 498,
500, 91 S.Ct. 514, 517, 518 (1971) (fns. omitted); see
also, e.g., Oxley v. City of New York, 923 F.2d 22, 25 (2d
Cir. 1991) (“Unlike the law of unseaworthiness, which
focuses on the condition of the vessel, the Jones Act
places a separate and distinct duty on the owner to provide
a reasonably safe workplace. Under the Jones Act, a
`plaintiff is entitled to go to the jury if “the proofs
justify with reason the conclusion that employer negligence
played any part, even the slightest, in producing the
injury . . . for which damages are sought.”‘”) (citations
omitted, ellipsis in original); Campbell v. Seacoast
Prods., Inc., 581 F.2d 98, 99 (5th Cir. 1978) (“The
allegation of a single, isolated incident of operational
negligence gives rise to a cause of action based on
negligence but not to one based on unseaworthiness.”);
Marchese v. Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., 525 F.2d 831, 834
(2d Cir. 1975) (an isolated negligent act will not render a
vessel unseaworthy unless the negligent act brings into
play an unseaworthy condition); Conceicao v. New Jersey
Exp. Marine Carpenters, Inc., 508 F.2d 437, 442-43 (2d Cir.
1974), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 949, 95 S.Ct. 1680 (1975);
Clark v. Solomon Navigation, Ltd., 631 F. Supp. 1275,
1278-79 (S.D.N.Y. 1986) (the unseaworthiness doctrine “will
not give rise to a remedy for some one-time act of
negligence”); Feehan v. United States Lines, Inc., 522 F.
Supp. 811, 818 (S.D.N.Y. 1980).[fn2]

In any event, plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim here is
redundant to and adds nothing to his negligence claim. See,
e.g., Campbell v. Seacoast Prods., Inc., 581 F.3d at 99.
Defendant Maersk is granted summary judgment dismissing
plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim.


For the reasons set forth above, the Court (1) denies
defendant’s summary judgment motion on plaintiff’s
negligence claim because of disputed issues of fact as to
whether it was negligent to put plaintiff Wright ashore on
St. Helena rather than Ascension Island, and (2) grants
defendant’s summary judgment motion on plaintiff’s
unseaworthiness claim. The parties are to file the Joint
Proposed Pretrial Order by February 9, 2001.


[fn1] The Court’s January 9, 2001 substantively same Report
and Recommendation is withdrawn and replaced by this
Opinion and Order.

[fn2] The Court notes that defendant Maersk’s original
statement of undisputed facts, erroneously denominated a
“Rule 3(g) Statement,” violates S.D.N.Y. Local Civil Rule
56.1(d), which provides that “Each statement of material
fact by a movant or opponent must be followed by citations
to evidence which would be admissible, set forth as
required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c).”
S.D.N.Y. Local Civil Rule 56.1(d). Defendant Maersk’s
original “Rule 3(g) Statement” did not cite to any
evidence. Plaintiff Wright requested that the Court deny
Maersk’s summary judgment motion on the basis of this rule
violation. Maersk’s counsel in reply submitted a Rule 56.1
Statement with citations to evidence. The Court declines to
deny Maersk’s motion on the basis of its violation of the
Local Rule, although it has the authority to do so, see
S.D.N.Y. Local Civil Rule 56.1(a), but warns defendant’s
counsel about the need to follow the Federal and Local
Rules in the future.