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Texaco Refining & Marketing, Inc. v. Estate of Dau Van Tran
May 30, 1991
808 S.W.2d 61
Texas Supreme Court
Published Opinion

Texaco Refining & Marketing, Inc. v. Estate of Dau Van Tran

Supreme Court of Texas.

TEXACO REFINING AND MARKETING, INC. and Texaco Marine Services, Inc., Petitioners,


ESTATE OF DAU VAN TRAN, et al., Respondents.

No. D–0473.


April 24, 1991.


Rehearing Overruled May 30, 1991.

Attorneys & Firms

*62 John F. Waldo, Houston, for petitioners.

Steven C. Barkley, Beaumont, for respondents.


GAMMAGE, Justice.

Dau Van Tran was crushed to death when a large wave, purportedly caused by the tanker TEXACO CALIFORNIA’s excessive speed, washed ashore just as he exited the water between a dock barge and a shrimp boat. Suit was filed against the tanker’s owners and operators, Texaco Refining and Marketing, Inc. and Texaco Marine Services, Inc. (“Texaco”), under the Texas Wrongful Death and Survivorship Statutes1. The suit also alleged Texaco violated article 29 of the Inland Rules, by failing to practice good seamanship. Texaco named the owner/operator of the shrimp boat and dock involved, Farmer Boy’s Catfish Kitchens International, Inc., as a third party defendant. Plaintiffs alleged negligence and violations of general maritime law against the third party.

The trial court rendered judgment against Texaco, exonerating the other defendant. The Beaumont Court of Appeals affirmed. 795 S.W.2d 870. Mindful of the U.S. Supreme Court’s remand order, and after a review of applicable law, we conclude the court of appeals erred in its conclusions. Accordingly, we will reverse.

Dau Van Tran was neither a seaman nor a longshoreman. He was a “good samaritan” who stopped to help the elderly captain of a shrimp boat free his propeller. He was against the dock barge between two tires when the wave washed ashore, throwing the shrimp boat against the dock crushing him. The facts and circumstances of this case remove it from statutes protecting classes of individuals under traditional maritime law: the Jones Act, Curry v. Fluor Drilling, 715 F.2d 893, 896 (5th Cir.1983).

The U.S. Supreme Court remanded this cause following its decision in *64 Sisson test concerns whether the conduct involved was substantially related to traditional maritime activity. The general conduct giving rise to the incident was the passage of the vessel through the ship channel, and is clearly substantially related to traditional maritime activity. Moreover, during oral arguments both sides conceded a maritime tort had occurred.

Where applicable and properly invoked, general maritime law preempts state causes of action and remedies, consistent with the longstanding desire of Congress and the judiciary to achieve uniformity in the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction pursuant to the Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 223, 106 S.Ct. 2485, 2494, 91 L.Ed.2d 174 (1986).

Where general maritime law is properly invoked by pleadings and litigated at trial, a trial court’s failure to award damages consistent with maritime law is clearly reversible error. Plaintiff’s live pleadings refer to the Inland Water Rules and failure to practice good seamanship. Texaco did not plead maritime law nor object to evidence of damages inconsistent with maritime law, but did raise it in its fourteenth proposed finding of fact and conclusion of law: “The case at bar is governed by the principles of general maritime law.” Maritime remedy constraints were again raised in Texaco’s motion for new trial. Moreover, one of the plaintiffs’ proposed findings of fact states: “The TEXACO CALIFORNIA failed to observe the rules of the road and the rules of good seamanship on the day in question.” In response to Texaco’s motion for new trial, the plaintiffs filed amended findings of fact. Acknowledging Texaco’s plea that the court not award mental anguish damages inconsistent with maritime law remedies, plaintiffs asked the court to “reconsider its award for loss of companionship, affection and society, both past and future, for both the mother and father.”

We conclude this was sufficient notice to the trial court to invoke general maritime law and its limited remedies. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand this cause to the trial court for rendition of judgment consistent with this opinion.



Texas Wrongful Death Statute, Tex.Civ.Prac. & Rem Code Ann. § 71.021 (Vernon 1986).

End of Document