Joint Tortfeasor not Entitled to Contribution from U.S.

Friday, December 23, 2005
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that a joint tortfeasor is not entitled to contribution from the United States in a maritime personal injury suit brought by an employee of the United States. In the instant case, the federal employee was working on a government vessel engaged in towing an obsolete government vessel from one location to another. Two commercial companies were assisting in the effort. During the tow, a portion of the government vessel’s towing gear broke off and struck the federal employee. The United States government paid the employee the compensation provided for under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). In the lawsuit brought by the federal employee against the two commercial companies, the companies contended that they were entitled to contribution from the federal government with regard to any amount that they may be liable to the federal employee. The appellate court, in affirming the trial court’s denial of that contention, held that contribution claims against the United States are barred because the substantive right to contribution in maritime law is unavailable where the United States enjoys statutory immunity under FECA from tort liability to the injured plaintiff. In re Petition of McAllister Towing and Transportation Company, Inc., No. 04-3938 (3rd Cir., December 21, 2005).

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