THE TUNGUS V. SKOVGAARD, 358 U. S. 588 (1959)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Tungus v. Skovgaard, 358 U.S. 588 (1959)

The Tungus v. Skovgaard

No. 43

Argued October 23, 1958

Decided February 24, 1959

358 U.S. 588


While oil was being unloaded from a ship in a New Jersey port by an independent contractor engaged by the consignee, one of the contractor's employees went aboard to repair a pump furnished by the contractor, and he slipped on spilled oil and fell to his death. His widow and administratrix brought suit in admiralty against the ship and its owners to recover damages for his death, alleging unseaworthiness of the vessel and negligent failure to provide the decedent with a reasonably safe place to work. The District Court dismissed the suit, but the Court of Appeals set aside that judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.


1. Since the decedent was not a seaman and his death did not occur on the high seas, there is no applicable federal statute, and the right of recovery depended entirely on the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act, which may be applied by a court of admiralty. Pp. 358 U. S. 590-591.

2. When admiralty adopts a State's right of action for wrongful death, it must enforce that right as an integrated whole, with whatever conditions and limitations the creating State has attached. Pp. 358 U. S. 591-594.

3. The New Jersey Wrongful Death Act embraces a claim for death negligently caused, and the law imposed on the ship and its owners a duty to exercise ordinary care to provide the decedent with a reasonably safe place to carry on his work of repairing the pump. P. 358 U. S. 594.

4. In the circumstances of this case, this Court will not disturb the conclusion reached by a majority of the Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, that a claim for unseaworthiness is encompassed by the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act as a matter of state law, notwithstanding the fact that the New Jersey courts have not passed on the question. Pp. 358 U. S. 595-596.

5. Decedent was within the class protected by the warranty of seaworthiness as developed by federal maritime law. Pope & Talbot, Inc. v. Hawn, 346 U. S. 406. P. 595, n. 9.

252 F.2d 14, affirmed.

Page 358 U. S. 589

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