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PAN-ALASKA FISHERIES, INC. v. MARINE CONSTR. & DES

October 6, 1975

PAN-ALASKA FISHERIES, INC., a corporation, and IDS Leasing Corporation, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARINE CONSTRUCTION & DESIGN CO., a corporation, et al., Defendants. NORTHERN COMMERCIAL COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation, d/b/a N.C. Marine, Third-Party Plaintiff, v. FRAM CORPORATION, a Foreign Corporation doing business in the State of Washington, Third-Party Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SOLOMON

 This case was remanded to this court from the Court of Appeals for further consideration of damages in light of United States v. Reliable Transfer, 421 U.S. 397, 95 S. Ct. 1708, 44 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1975).

 In findings of fact and conclusions of law entered April 2, 1974, I found that defendant N.C. Marine was negligent in installing in plaintiff Pan-Alaska's fishing vessel ENTERPRISE an engine with oil filters which it knew were defective. I found that one or both of these oil filters malfunctioned and caused a fire in the vessel.

 N. C. Marine's installation of an engine with defective filters was the primary cause of the fire.

 Pan-Alaska's failure to clean the tanks of contaminated fuel and some of Pan-Alaska's other acts of negligence enumerated in the findings probably were also significant causes of the fire. These and other failures were largely responsible for the spread of the fire which sank the vessel.

 In my findings I found that if the plaintiff had not been negligent, the damages resulting from the fire would have been $1,000.00 or less. Nevertheless, that amount is not the limit of N. C. Marine's liability.

 On April 2, 1974, I applied the ancient admiralty doctrine of divided damages. In Reliable Transfer, decided May 19, 1975, the Supreme Court abolished the doctrine of divided damages except for a small class of cases:

 
"We hold that when two or more parties have contributed by their fault to cause property damage in a maritime collision or stranding, liability for such damage is to be allocated among the parties proportionately to the comparative degree of their fault, and that liability for such damages is to be allocated equally only when the parties are equally at fault or when it is not possible fairly to measure the comparative degree of their fault." 95 S. Ct. at 1715-1716.

 Therefore, the standard to be applied here is comparative negligence.

 Culpability, not causation, is the standard by which damages are assessed in comparative negligence cases. In Reliable Transfer, the Supreme Court referred to Dean Schwartz's excellent treatise on Comparative Negligence, which says at page 276:

 
"The jury's line of inquiry under comparative negligence does not focus on physical causation; rather, it considers and weighs culpability."

 Prosser and Wade arrived at the same conclusion:

 
"It is generally agreed that under any of the 'comparative negligence' acts, the damages are to be divided in proportion to the fault of the parties, and not upon any basis of respective contribution to or causation of the ...

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