Plaintiff's intestate, while employed as a diver by a
shipbuilding company, submerged himself from a floating barge
anchored in a navigable river in Texas thirty-five feet from the
bank for the purpose of sawing off timbers of an abandoned set of
ways, once used for launching ships, which had become an
obstruction to navigation. While thus submerged, he died of
suffocation due to failure of the air supply. Damages for the death
were recovered from the employer's insurer under the workmen's
compensation law of Texas.
Page 270 U. S. 60
1. That the fact disclosed a maritime tort to which the general
admiralty jurisdiction would extend save for the state compensation
law, but the matter was of mere local concern, and its regulation
by the state would work no material prejudice to any characteristic
feature of the general maritime law. P. 270 U. S.
2. The state compensation law prescribed the only remedy, and
its exclusive features abrogated the right to resort to the
admiralty court which otherwise would exist. Id.
Error to a judgment of the Supreme Court of Texas affirming a
judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals which affirmed a recovery in
a suit under the workmen's compensation law of Texas. See
245 S.W. 1025; 261 id.
Page 270 U. S. 62
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The court below affirmed a judgment of the Orange County
District Court in favor of defendant in error for compensation
under the Workmen's Compensation Law of Texas (Gen.Laws 1917, p.
269) on account of the death of her brother, O. O. Boudreaux. April
17, 1920, while employed as a diver by the National Shipbuilding
Company, he submerged himself from a floating barge anchored
Page 270 U. S. 63
in the navigable Sabine River 35 feet from the bank, for the
purpose of sawing off the timbers of an abandoned set of ways, once
used for launching ships, which had become an obstruction to
navigation. While thus submerged, the air supply failed, and he
died of suffocation.
The employing company carried a policy of insurance with
plaintiff in error conditioned to pay the compensation prescribed
by the statute, and accordingly was "regarded as a subscriber" to
the Texas Employers' Insurance Association therein provided for.
Par. I, § 3 of the statutes declares:
"The employees of a subscriber shall have no right of action
against their employer for damages for personal injuries, and the
representatives and beneficiaries of deceased employees shall have
no right of action against such subscribing employer for damages
for injuries resulting in death, but such employees and their
representatives and beneficiaries shall look for compensation
solely to the association, as the same is hereinafter provided for.
. . ."
It also prescribes a schedule of weekly payments for injured
employees or their beneficiaries, and provides for a board to pass
upon claims and an ultimate right to proceed in court. Subscribers'
employees do not contribute to the necessary costs of such
protection. They are presumed to accept the plan and to waive all
right to recover damages for injuries at common law or under any
statute unless they give definite written notice to the contrary.
No such notice was given by the deceased.
Plaintiff in error insists that the claim arose out of a
maritime tort, that the rights and obligations of the parties were
fixed by the maritime law, and that the state had no power to
change these by statute or otherwise.
This subject was much considered in Grant Smith-Porter Co.
v. Rohde, 257 U. S. 469
257 U. S. 477
here on certificate, which arose out of injuries suffered by a
Page 270 U. S. 64
while at work upon an uncompleted vessel lying in navigable
waters within the State of Oregon. The words of the local statute
applied to the employment and prescribed an exclusive remedy. We
said the cause was controlled by the principle that, as to certain
local matters regulation of which would work no material prejudice
to the general maritime law, the rules of the latter may be
modified or supplemented by state statutes. And we held that, under
the circumstances disclosed,
"regulation of the rights, obligations, and consequent
liabilities of the parties, as between themselves, by a local rule
would not necessarily work material prejudice to any characteristic
feature of the general maritime law, or interfere with the proper
harmony or uniformity of that law in its international or
Stressing the point that the parties were clearly and
consciously within the terms of the statute and did not in fact
suppose they were contracting with reference to the general system
of maritime law, we alluded to the circumstance, not otherwise of
special importance, that each of them had contributed to the
industrial accident fund.
And, answering the certified questions, we affirmed that:
"The general admiralty jurisdiction extends to a proceeding to
recover damages resulting from a tort committed on a vessel in
process of construction when lying on navigable waters within a
"In the circumstances stated, the exclusive features of the
Oregon Workmen's Compensation Act would apply, and abrogate the
right to recover damages in an admiralty court which otherwise
In the cause now under consideration, the record discloses facts
sufficient to show a maritime tort to which the general admiralty
jurisdiction would extend save for the provisions of the state
Compensation Act, but the matter is of mere local concern, and its
regulation by the state will work no material prejudice to any
Page 270 U. S. 65
feature of the general maritime law. The Act prescribes the only
remedy; its exclusive features abrogate the right to resort to the
admiralty court which otherwise would exist.
We had occasion to consider matters which were not of mere local
concern because of their special relation to commerce and
navigation, and held them beyond the regulatory power of the state,
in Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Kierejewski,
261 U. S. 479
Washington v. Dawson & Co., 264 U.
, Gonsalves v. Morse Dry Dock Co.,
266 U. S. 171
Robins Dry Dock Co. v. Dahl, 266 U.
, 266 U. S. 457
The conclusion reached by the court below is correct, and its
judgment must be