Texas' 14th Court of Appeals affirms trial judge's rejection of dollar-for-dollar credit in Jones Act case

by Matthew H. Ammerman on February 14th, 2011

Seaman can file suit in state court. This often leads to the collision of state procedure and substantive federal maritime law. In an opinion release on February 10, 2011, the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston agreed that the proportionate responsbility provisions of Texas' Civil Practice and Remedies Code ยง 33.012(b) did NOT apply. Instead, the trial court applied the maritime law (federal common law) rule of reducing plaintiff's $810,000 jury verdict by the settling tortfeasor's percentage of rresponsibility -- not a dollar-for-dollar credit. Niche Oilfield Services, LLC v. John Carter, Jr., 2011 Tex. App. LEXIS 937 (Tex. App. -- Houston [14th Dist.], February 10, 2011).

This follows the premise set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Amclyde case rejecting the dollar-for-dollar credit approach under maritime law. McDermott, Inc. v. AmClyde, 511 U.S. 202, 217-21 (1994). In Niche, however, the court spent no time discussing whether a state's rights to govern procedure in its own court should overcome the application of maritime law. Instead, the appellant's arguments focused on whether maritime law should apply to this case where a worker was injured cleaning a tank on a vessel on navigable waters. This is a choice of law analysis governed by whether: (1) the incident occurred on a maritime site; (2) the activity in question has a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce; and, (3) there is a significant relationship to a traditional maritime activity. The 14th Court of Appeals answered affirmatively and agreed with the application of maritime law.

Settling tortfeasor Tidewater was only assessed 5% responsibility. Therefore, the trial judge's reduction of the award by $40,500 (5% of $810,000) was affirmed.

Posted in Jones Act: Credit for Settlement    Tagged with Credit, dollar-for-dollar, Amclyde, percentage of responsibility



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