CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg
MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is an action by a shipowner, Italia Societa per Azioni di Navigazione (Italia), against a contracting stevedore company, Oregon Stevedoring Company (Oregon), to recover indemnity for breach of the stevedore's implied warranty of workmanlike service. The issue presented is whether the warranty is breached where the
stevedore has non-negligently supplied defective equipment which injures one of its employees during the course of stevedoring operations.
The petitioner, Italia, is the owner of the vessel M. S. Antonio Pacinotti. The respondent, Oregon, agreed to render stevedoring services for Italia in all ports along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Under the contract between the companies Oregon was to have exclusive rights to and control over the loading and discharge of cargoes aboard Italia's vessels*fn1 and was to "furnish all necessary labor and supervision and all ordinary gear for the performance of [these] services . . . , including winch drivers and usual appliances used for stevedoring." Italia was to furnish and maintain in safe and efficient working condition suitable booms, winches, blocks, steam, lights and so forth. The agreement provided that the stevedoring company would be responsible for damage to the ship, cargo, and for injury or death of any person caused by its negligence, and that the steamship company would be responsible for the injury or death of any person or damage to property arising from its negligence or by reason of failure of the ship's gear and equipment.*fn2
During the course of Oregon's stevedoring operations in Portland, one of its longshoreman employees, Griffith, was injured on the M. S. Antonio Pacinotti when a tent rope snapped. The rope, permanently attached to a hatch tent used to protect cargo from rain, was furnished by Oregon pursuant to its obligation to supply ordinary gear necessary for the performance of stevedoring services. The injured longshoreman sued the shipowner in a state court for negligence and unseaworthiness*fn3 and recovered a judgment against Italia upon a general verdict. Italia satisfied the judgment and thereupon brought this suit in a Federal District Court for indemnity from Oregon. The District Court found that the basis for Griffith's recovery was not negligence on the part of the shipowner but a condition of unseaworthiness created by the rope supplied by Oregon, which was found defective and unfit for its intended use. However, the District Court disallowed indemnity because Italia had
failed to prove negligence on the part of the stevedore company, since the defective condition of the rope was not apparent. That court viewed the contractual provision rendering Oregon liable for injuries caused by its negligence as an express disclaimer against an implied warranty of workmanlike service. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with one judge dissenting, affirmed, but solely on the ground that a stevedore's implied warranty of workmanlike service is not breached in the absence of a showing of negligence in supplying defective equipment. 310 F.2d 481. Because of a conflict between this decision and the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Booth S. S. Co. v. Meier & Oelhaf Co., 262 F.2d 310, and the importance of the question involved, we granted certiorari. 372 U.S. 963. For the reasons stated below, we have determined that the absence of negligence on the part of a stevedore who furnishes defective equipment is not fatal to the shipowner's claim of indemnity based on the stevedore's implied warranty of workmanlike service.
In Ryan v. Pan-Atlantic Corp., 350 U.S. 124, the landmark decision in this area, it was established that a stevedoring contractor who enters into a service agreement with a shipowner is liable to indemnify the owner for damages sustained as a result of the stevedore's improper stowage of cargo. Although the agreement between the shipowner and stevedore was silent on the subject of warranties and standards of performance, the Court found that the essence of the stevedore's contract is to perform "properly and safely." "Competency and safety . . . are inescapable elements of the service undertaken." This undertaking is the stevedore's "warranty of workmanlike service that is comparable to a ...