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05/05/58 JOSEPH M. TRIHEY v. TRANSOCEAN AIR LINES

May 5, 1958.

JOSEPH M. TRIHEY, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF MARIA G. MUNA, DECEASED, ET AL., APPELLANT,
v.
TRANSOCEAN AIR LINES, INC., A CORPORATION, ET AL., APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barnes

Before FEE, CHAMBERS and BARNES, Circuit Judges.

BARNES, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a decision of the District Court for the Central District of California in an action in admiralty for the wrongful death of three passengers lost in the crash of an airplane operated by Transocean Air Lines, Inc., a corporation (hereinafter, Transocean), over the Pacific Ocean on July 12, 1953. It arises under the Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 761-768 (hereinafter, D.H.S.A.). Exclusive jurisdiction is conferred on the admiralty court. 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 761; Higa v. Transocean Airlines, 9 Cir., 1955, 230 F.2d 780. The action is against the carrier, Transocean; the maintenance contractor, Slick Airways, Inc., a corporation (hereinafter, Slick); and the manufacturer of the aircraft, Douglas Aircraft Corporation, Inc., a corporation (hereinafter, Douglas).

Plaintiff is the qualified administrator of the estates of Maria G. Muna, deceased; Francisco G. Muna, deceased; and Catalina Manalisay Guiterrez, deceased, and represented their heirs in filing this suit based on negligence. He invoked the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The trial judge indicated doubt if the doctrine applied and required plaintiff to present his case in full, i.e., to present all evidence of specific acts of negligence known to him. At the close of the case, by way of motion for inclusion of a statement of decision and by objections to the findings of fact and conclusions of law, plaintiff sought to obtain a clear ruling or statement from the court, stating whether the court had applied or considered applicable the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. These several motions were denied and no clear ruling on the point was ever made.

In this case appellant strongly urges (though not exclusively) that the applicability of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur would cure all the defects seen by the trial court in his case. We cannot agree, for under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, as expounded by the Supreme Court of the United States, and applicable in admiralty proceedings, while the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur permits a verdict for one in appellant's position, its application does not require it.

Appellant urges that because respondents offered no evidence to explain the cause of the aircraft plunging into the sea, they are liable. Appellant himself offered no evidence to explain the cause of the crash. He offered evidence to show what might have caused it. Defendants offered evidence to show what they knew of the aircraft's maintenance and operation. (Witnesses Carson, Buckalew, Wood, Captain Keating, and Exhibits A to M, inclusive.) The matter then rested with the trial court's conclusion as to where the preponderance of evidence lay. Findings of fact adverse to appellant, supported by conflicting evidence, were filed, as well as appropriate conclusions of law favoring all defendants. We are asked to reverse, as a matter of law.

Plaintiff's points on appeal are these:

1. Res ipsa loquitur should have been applied by the trier of fact.

2. If res ipsa loquitur was applied, it was sufficient as a matter of law for plaintiff to have judgment.

3. Even without res ipsa loquitur the clear preponderance of the evidence requires a judgment for plaintiff.

4. Errors in findings.

5. Error in failure to award plaintiffs value of baggage lost and fares paid by decedents.

Most of the "facts" are uncontradicted, but there is a substantial conflict as to their interpretation on the issue of negligence.

The plane involved was on a flight from Guam to Oakland via Wake Island and Hawaii. It crashed without radio warning of trouble approximately one hundred miles east of Wake Island some time after take-off. Bits of the plane and ...


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