Koistinen v. American Export Lines, Inc., 83 N.Y.S. 2d 297 (N.Y. City Ct. 1948)

The short version: Eino Koistinen was a sailor; American Export Lines was his employer. Koistinen believed that American Export Lines should compensate him for his broken leg, on the grounds that he broke it in the service of his ship. American Export Lines believed otherwise, on the grounds that he broke it by leaping through a woman's bedroom window, which was really not the sort of service they had hired him to provide. Koistinen won.

The longer version: Eino Koistinen, a fireman and water tender on the steamship John N. Robins, was on shore leave in the port of Split, in Croatia (which was at the time part of Yugoslavia). He visited a couple of bars, drinking a total of three glasses of "wine like to our familiar port" (all quotations, except where otherwise indicated, are from the opinion by the inimitable Justice Carlin). At the second bar, he met a woman who invited him back to her room "for purposes not particularly platonic," and he accepted the invitation.

Once there, Koistinen reportedly had a change of heart and decided that he had had a lovely time but would really like to leave now, please. Carlin writes:

[T]he woman scorned was unappeased by his contrition and vociferously remonstrated unless her unregarded charms were requited by an accretion of 'dinner' (phonetically put); the court erroneously interpreted the word as showing that the woman had a carnivorous frenzy which could only be soothed by the succulent sirloin provided at the plaintiff's expense; but it was explained to denote a pecuniary not a gastronomic dun [...].

The woman tried to pick Koistinen's pocket (here Carlin erroneously refers the reader to Robert Service's "Spell of the Yukon" for a fuller description of the method; I think what he had in mind was really the final stanza of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew"); when this failed, she locked the door. It was at this point that Koistinen began to contemplate the six- or eight-foot jump from the window. His decision was made for him by the appearance of a large man in the doorway, who was evidently the woman's co-conspirator in a classic badger game. (Here Carlin wonders parenthetically how that particular con "came to penetrate the ferruginous arras of Yugoslavia.") Out the window Koistinen leapt, and he broke his bloomin' leg and had to be hospitalized.

Carlin ruled that Koistinen was indeed entitled to maintenance and cure from American Export Lines. Koistinen's service to the ship was in saving his own hide. The fact that he was on shore leave, and not performing specifically ordered duties, did not remove his employer's responsibility; this much had already been established in Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, 318 U.S. 724 (1943), in which it was held that "[o]nly some wilful misbehavior or deliberate act of indiscretion suffices to deprive the seaman of his protection." Koistinen's injury was not sustained in the commission of an indiscretion, but rather as the result of his attempt to back out of an indiscretion. (Had he consummated his fleeting attraction to the woman in question and thereby contracted a venereal disease, American Export Lines would not have been expected to pay maintenance and cure for that.) As things were, Koistinen's broken leg was honestly come by—the result of an unfortunate accident on a properly authorized shore leave—and American Export Lines had to pay up.

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