The Choice Between Proportionate Fault or Ryan Indemnity in Maritime Property Damage Cases
Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 325-348, April 1979
25 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2010
Date Written: April 1, 1979
The warranty of workmanlike performance was implied in stevedoring contracts by the Supreme Court's 1956 decision in Ryan Stevedoring Co. v. Pan Atlantic Steamship Corp. A breach of the warranty entitled a shipowner to full indemnity for any judgment or reasonable settlement amount paid to a third party, including reimbursement of fees and expenses incurred in defending the third party's claim. Like the common law doctrine of contributory negligence, a breach of the warranty had all-or-nothing consequences.
Ryan indemnity caught on quickly as part of the law of maritime contracts, and during the 1960's it developed into a very potent doctrine. The lower courts applied it to contexts outside that in which it had arisen. The doctrine grew steadily until the 1970's when a number of developments in the maritime law, both statutory and decisional, cut back on its application and eroded its rationale. In 1972 Congress amended the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, overruling Ryan insofar as it applied to the tri-party personal injury litigation among longshoremen, shipowners, and stevedores. Supreme Court decisions in 1974 and 1975 re-established the right to contribution among joint tortfeasors in non-collision cases and adopted a rule allocating damages in maritime cases based on proportionate fault.
This article discusses the Ryan warranty and the Ryan indemnity action in light of these developments. Particular attention is given to the justification for Ryan indemnity under an implied warranty in view of the ability of courts to award contribution and/or proportion damages based on fault. The emphasis of the article is on the applicability of Ryan indemnity to other than personal injury and death cases.
Keywords: warranty of workmanlike performance, stevedoring contracts, Ryan Stevedoring Co. v. Pan Atlantic Steamship Corp., beach of warranty, maritime law, full indemnity, judgments, maritime contracts, proportionate fault, torts, negligence
JEL Classification: K19, K29, K39, K49, L92
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation