Smith v. Crounse Corp., No. 22-1303 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Crounse delivered barges to Mulzer, which cleaned the barges, loaded them with Mulzer’s crushed stone, delivered the stone, cleaned the barges again, and released the barges to Crounse. Crounse’s barges were used by other companies to haul other materials. Barges carrying coal sometimes returned with as much as a foot of coal remaining in the hopper. Mulzer would clear the coal and sell it for a profit. Mulzer's employee, Smith, was operating a skid steer with a “blade” positioned at its lowest height to push coal to the front of the hopper for removal with a broom. The blade hit a "scab." Smith was propelled forward. Smith’s seatbelt failed; he was injured when he hit a safety bar. The hopper floor scab resulted from a split seam, 12-14 inches long, and a few inches tall. The barge was 24 years old. Crounse had procedures for regularly inspecting and repairing its barge, including the hopper. Crounse had received no reports of damage to the barge; 23 days before Smith’s accident, the barge had been cleaned by a blade without incident.
Smith sued Crounse under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 901, and general maritime law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Crounse. Smith lacked evidence that Crounse’s inspection and repair procedures were inadequate; that Crounse had actual knowledge or should have known of the defect in the exercise of ordinary care; and did not demonstrate that Crounse failed to comply with its turnover duties.