Longshoreman-Shipowner-Stevedore: The Circle of Liability

It is universally recognized that in the past two decades the United States Supreme Court has substantially revised the law under which seamen, longshoremen and harbor workers (or their survivors) may recover damages for personal injury and death. One of the more recent and most authoritative texts in the field of admiralty and maritime law devotes an entire chapter, 147 pages in length, to the subject of the rights of seamen and maritime workers (or their survivors) of recovery for injury and death. The introduction to that chapter likens the Court’s rewriting of the law in this field to a volcano and states that as long as it “continues in eruption, no charts can be guaranteed reliable” as to its future course. It must be conceded that one of the more recent, major and most astounding eruptions is that pertaining to the rights of longshoremen to recover damages for personal injuries sustained in the course of their employment aboard vessels. Since World War II the spotlight of judicial decision and review in maritime cases has been focused upon this one narrow field until it has become one of the most litigious in this country. It is the purpose of this article to review the background and history of events within that field, set forth clearly and concisely the status of the law and note some changes which may be forthcoming.