Exxon Co., U. S. A. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U.S. 830, 8 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 830 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

its stead.2 The proximate causation requirement was not before us in Reliable Transfer, and we did not suggest that the requirement was inapplicable in admiralty. (Nor, for that matter, did we consider whether the injury had been proximately caused by the defendant in that case.)

There is nothing internally inconsistent in a system that apportions damages based upon comparative fault only among tortfeasors whose actions were proximate causes of an injury. Nor is there any repugnancy between the superseding cause doctrine, which is one facet of the proximate causation requirement, and a comparative fault method of allocating damages. As Professor Schoenbaum has said:

"The doctrine of superseding cause is . . . applied where the defendant's negligence in fact substantially contributed to the plaintiff's injury, but the injury was actually brought about by a later cause of independent origin that was not foreseeable. It is properly applied in admiralty cases.

". . . [T]he superseding cause doctrine can be reconciled with comparative negligence. Superseding cause operates to cut off the liability of an admittedly negligent defendant, and there is properly no apportionment of comparative fault where there is an absence of proxi-2 Some commentators have suggested that there may be a distinction between a system allocating damages on the basis of comparative culpability, and a system allocating damages on the basis of both comparative culpability and the degree to which fault proximately or foreseeably contributed to an injury. W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, & D. Owen, Pros-ser and Keeton on the Law of Torts 474 (5th ed. 1984) (hereinafter Keeton); 1 T. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law 5-4, p. 167 (2d ed. 1994); Owen & Whitman, Fifteen Years Under Reliable Transfer: 1975- 1990, Developments in American Maritime Law in Light of the Rule of Comparative Fault, 22 J. Mar. L. & Com. 445, 476-483 (1991). We continue to use the term "comparative fault" employed in Reliable Transfer, but we do not mean thereby to take a position on which of these systems is the appropriate one, assuming that there is in fact a distinction between them.


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