OCTOBER TERM, 1993
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit
No. 92-1479. Argued January 11, 1994—Decided April 20, 1994
When petitioner McDermott, Inc., attempted to use a crane purchased from respondent AmClyde to move an offshore oil and gas production platform, a prong of the crane's hook broke, damaging both the platform and the crane itself. The malfunction may have been caused by McDermott's negligent operation of the crane, by AmClyde's faulty design or construction, by a defect in the hook supplied by respondent River Don Castings, Ltd., or by one or more of the three companies that supplied supporting steel slings. McDermott brought suit in admiralty against respondents and the three "sling defendants," but settled with the latter for $1 million. The case then went to trial, and the jury assessed Mc-Dermott's loss at $2.1 million, allocating 32% of the damages to Am-Clyde, 38% to River Don, and 30% jointly to petitioner and the sling defendants. Among other things, the District Court entered judgment against AmClyde for $672,000 (32% of $2.1 million) and against River Don for $798,000 (38% of $2.1 million). Holding that the contract between McDermott and AmClyde precluded any recovery against the latter and that the trial judge had improperly denied respondents' motion to reduce the judgment against them pro tanto by the settlement amount, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment against AmClyde entirely and reduced the judgment against River Don to $470,000, which it computed by determining McDermott's full award to be $1.47 million ($2.1 million minus 30% attributed to McDermott/sling defendants), and then by deducting the $1 million settlement.
Held: The nonsettling defendants' liability should be calculated with reference to the jury's allocation of proportionate responsibility, not by giving them a credit for the dollar amount of the settlement. Pp. 207-221. (a) Supported by a consensus among maritime nations, scholars, and judges, the Court, in United States v. Reliable Transfer Co., 421 U. S. 397, 409, adopted a rule requiring that damages in an admiralty suit be assessed on the basis of proportionate fault when such an allocation can reasonably be made. No comparable consensus has developed with respect to the issue in this case. Although it is generally agreed that nonsettling joint tortfeasors are entitled to a credit when the plaintiff settles with one of the other defendants, there is a divergence of viewsPage: Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Next
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