Lawmakers close venue loophole for dredging suits

Marilyn Tennissen May 31, 2007, 8:00am

Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale

In a legislative session fraught with battles to unseat House Speaker Tom Craddick, Texas lawmakers were able to agree on at least one measure that is big news for the state's maritime industry.

House Bill 1602, sponsored by State Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball, is designed to protect Texas ports from what the representative said are a rash of frivolous lawsuits.

The bill amends the Jones Act, the federal statute that allows an injured seaman or maritime worker the right to sue for damages. The Jones Act included a loophole that allowed lawsuits relating to injuries in the dredging industry to be filed in a variety of venues.

In recent years, about 60 percent of dredging lawsuits are filed in South Texas, particularly in Starr and Hidalgo counties.

The new law states that dredging lawsuits in Texas must be filed in either the county where the incident took place, the county where the defendant's principle office is located or the county where the plaintiff resided when the incident occurred.

"When the plaintiffs' attorneys and business community agree that a litigation loophole needs to be closed, you know the legislation is greatly needed," Speaker Tom Craddick said in a press release. "With the guidance of House Civil Practices Chair Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), the legislation was negotiated and agreed to by both the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the business community. I applaud Chairman Cook and Rep. Van Arsdale for their work on this critical legislation."

HB 1602 was passed unanimously by the Texas House of Representatives and by the Texas Senate. It was signed by Gov. Rick Perry on May 24 and became effective immediately.

"Legislators acted decisively to close a loophole in our venue law that was being exploited by a few lawyers to the detriment of the state's economically critical maritime industry," Dick Weekley, chairman and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, said in a press release. "The new law will keep our waterways open for business and our economy flourishing, to the benefit of all Texas workers and consumers."

The Texas Ports Association, which includes the Port of Beaumont and the Port of Port Arthur, and dozens of maritime-related businesses and associations supported the legislation.

The state's maritime industry adds $178 billion to the Texas economy.

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