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Hansen v. Perth Amboy Dry Dock Co.

Decided: January 23, 1967.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Proctor, J.


This is a workmen's compensation case. Petitioner, John Hansen, was injured in the course of his employment as a ship painter. He received benefits for 49 weeks and 5 days under the federal compensation remedy, the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act, 33 U.S.C.A. ยง 901 et seq. Then he filed a petition for workmen's compensation under the laws of New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 et seq. The judge of compensation found for petitioner and made an award. The County Court reversed, holding that the federal compensation remedy was exclusive. The Appellate Division affirmed. We granted certification. 47 N.J. 239 (1966).

The facts are not disputed. Respondent has extensive dry dock facilities in Perth Amboy covering some two blocks and including shops for machine, carpentry, electric and paint work together with two warehouses and about 16 garages. Its dry docks are located on the Arthur Kill, navigable waters of the United States flowing between New Jersey and Staten Island, New York. Petitioner worked for respondent as a painter since 1956.

On April 15, 1959 petitioner was painting the stern of a ship. The ship was longer than the dry dock, and as a result he was required to use a ladder supported by a raft on the water in order to get access to the ship's stern. It was a new ship. While petitioner was lettering the name of the ship, the ladder broke and he fell and suffered serious injuries.

Most of petitioner's work consisted of painting ships in dry dock, some new and some already in operation. He did not work on moving ships or those at anchor. About four or five weeks each year he spent on land painting equipment or buildings of respondent.

Respondent carried workmen's compensation insurance with the same insurance company for petitioner and other employees under both federal and state acts. As mentioned, prior to this claim petitioner received compensation benefits designated by the insurance company as payable under the federal act. On this appeal respondent does not contend that the receipt

of these federal benefits caused an election of remedies which would bar the present claim. Cf. Calbeck v. Travelers Insurance Co., 370 U.S. 114, 131-132, 82 S. Ct. 1196, 8 L. Ed. 2 d 368, 379 (1962).

It is clear that petitioner is entitled to compensation under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act because his injury occurred on navigable waters of the United States. Calbeck, supra, 370 U.S., at p. 124, 82 S. Ct., at p. 1202, 8 L. Ed. 2 d, at p. 375. The single issue on this appeal is whether compensation may validly be given petitioner for his work-connected injuries under the compensation laws of New Jersey or whether the remedy available under the federal act is exclusive.

The starting point for cases having to do with compensation of amphibious workers injured on navigable waters is Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 37 S. Ct. 524, 61 L. Ed. 1086 (1917). There the United States Supreme Court held that the widow of a longshoreman killed on a ship while unloading cargo could not constitutionally receive compensation for his work-connected fatal accident under the laws of the State of New York. Such a state recovery, it was said, would interfere with the proper harmony and uniformity of the maritime law in its international and interstate relations and violate Art. III, sec. 2 and Art. I, sec. 8 of the United States Constitution. Jensen, supra, 244 U.S., at pp. 215-216, 37 S. Ct., at pp. 528-529, 61 L. Ed., at p. 1098. This led to the harsh result of denying a compensation remedy to amphibious workers for injuries received on navigable waters because at that time there was no federal compensation act.

Congress took steps to remedy this hardship. It twice tried to empower the states to grant a blanket compensation coverage to amphibious workers, but these attempts were struck down by the Supreme Court as unlawful delegations of federal power to the states. Knickerbocker Ice Co. v. Stewart, 253 U.S. 149, 40 S. Ct. 438, 64 L. Ed. 834 (1920); State of Washington v. W. C. Dawson & Co., 264 U.S. 219, 44 S. Ct.

302, 68 L. Ed. 646 (1924). In response to this judicial position Congress in 1927 passed the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act which provided a federal compensation ...

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