Dredging companies who work in Texas have banded together with other maritime interests to fight a spike in Jones Act personal injury lawsuits under a loophole in the law. More than 120 lawsuits filed over a three-year period have caused many companies to reconsider their project costs and in some cases refuse to bid projects in Texas.
An industry coalition called Maritime Jobs for Texas was formed by more than 80 dredgers ports and maritime interests including the Texas Ports Association Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Association and the Texas Waterways Operators. The coalition supported the change in Texas law containing the venue exemption.
After a six-month effort working with the Texas governor House of Representatives and Senate HB 1602 Maritime Lawsuit Reform Act was passed. Governor Perry signed the bill into law on May 24 2007 and the legislation went into effect immediately.
The legislation requires that all suits brought under the federal Employers’ Liability Act (the Jones Act) shall be brought in the county in which all or a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred; in the county where the defendant’s principal office in Texas is located; or in the county where the plaintiff resided at the time the cause of action accrued.
The legislation defines terms and other fine points of its intent. The full text is available on the web site maritimejobsfortexas.org
A statement on the site says
“Unfortunately the recent explosion of lawsuits in Texas courts against dredging companies under the Jones Act (a federal statute governing injury claims by maritime workers) is threatening to make dredging in Texas so expensive that projects along the Texas Gulf Coast are seriously at risk. This endangers the future viability of our state as a major center of global commerce.
“If our ports are not adequately maintained and improved Texas cannot continue to prosper in the global economy and cannot compete effectively against rival Gulf Coast ports in other states.
“The mission of Maritime Jobs for Texas is to ensure a business climate conducive to economic growth and maritime commerce. We are working hard to make sure that Texas lawmakers get the information they need to complete their work on lawsuit reform and protect Texas maritime jobs.
“Legislative reforms to the Texas Tort system have been widely heralded as among the most successful ever enacted. Yet in the process of reform a loophole was left in the system allowing maritime workers to be treated differently from other Texas workers. This loophole is now being exploited primarily by two law firms who have attacked maritime industries working in Texas with an epidemic of questionable personal injury lawsuits venued in South Texas.
“Maritime Jobs for Texas is a coalition of public and private employers including many Texas ports every major Texas dredging company towing and barge companies and Texas and national Maritime Trade Associations. We are united in seeking a reasonable solution to the litigation explosion that is confronting our industry.”