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Fanoli v. Sea-Land Services Inc.

Decided: October 30, 1991.

JOHN FANOLI AND MOLLI FANOLI, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS, CROSS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, CROSS-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.

Bilder, Stern and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.

Bilder

This is a personal injury case arising under the Longshore and Harborworkers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. 901 et seq. Defendant Sea-Land Services, Inc. appeals from a judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs following a jury verdict which found defendant negligent, the injured plaintiff, John Fanoli (hereinafter "plaintiff"), free of negligence and awarded damages of $900,000 to John and $350,000 to his wife, plaintiff Molli Fanoli. The judgment included prejudgment interest of $176,655.26. Plaintiffs cross-appeal the reduction of Molli's award to $50,000.

Sea-Land operates sea-going vessels from a terminal facility at Port Elizabeth which it also owns and operates. To furnish relief to members of the crews while ships are at Port Elizabeth, Sea-Land maintains shore gangs which relieve shore leave crew members and carry out such maintenance and other duties as they are directed to do on board ship. Plaintiff was employed as a member of a shore gang.

On the morning of June 27, 1986 plaintiff was injured while attempting to board the S.S. Chesapeake Trader, a barge owned by Sea-Land. Access to the barge was provided by a straight aluminum ladder which had been laid against the side of the barge from the dock below. The accident occurred when the ladder slipped to the side from its position at the top edge of the barge causing plaintiff and the ladder to fall to the pilings below. Plaintiff collected compensation from Sea-Land as his employer pursuant to § 904 of the Act and also instituted the instant negligence action against Sea-Land as owner of the barge pursuant to § 905(b) of the Act. Plaintiff does not deny defendant is entitled to a credit for the compensation payments pursuant to § 933 of the Act. The judgment appealed from gives such a credit.

In its brief, defendant described the appeal as involving "exclusively" issues of law and statutory interpretation; alleges the issues are controlled exclusively by federal law, more

particularly the Act; and concedes that plaintiff was a harbor worker within the meaning of the Act. Prior to the trial, before the summations, defendant abandoned a contention that plaintiffs' claim was barred by the negligence of fellow servants.

On appeal, defendant contends the Act bars this negligence suit against plaintiff's employer; that there is no right to prejudgment interest with respect to this federally created cause; that there can be no recovery for loss of society with respect to this federally created cause; and that plaintiffs had no right to a jury trial.

I.

An understanding of the Act is a necessary foundation to an understanding of defendant's contentions.

As its title shows, the Act is a workers' compensation act. It substitutes no-fault compensation, § 904,*fn1 for a right to sue, § 905(a).*fn2 On appeal, defendant contends the exclusivity provisions

of § 905(a), which make compensation an employee's exclusive remedy against his employer, bars plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff, on his part, contends the claim is authorized by § 905(b) which permits an employee to sue a ...


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