St. Mary's Law Journal


The Texas Responsible Third Party (RTP) statute was amended in 2003 to give defendants the opportunity to have the jury apportion responsibility for the plaintiff’s damages to persons who were not joined in the lawsuit. A defendant could achieve this result by designating a “responsible third party.” Plaintiffs may often join responsible third parties as additional defendants. Under such situations, all culpable parties are before the court, defending themselves, and accountable to the plaintiff for their percentage of responsibility. When the statute worked in this fashion it achieved “a carefully constructed scheme balancing the interests of both defendants and claimants.” Texas courts soon construed the RTP statute to allow designation of essentially immune parties. What was left of the 2003 statutory balance was repealed in 2011. Plaintiffs filing suits after August 31, 2011, can no longer join designated responsible third parties after the statute of limitations has expired. This Article suggests why the RTP statute may not actually authorize defendants to designate most immune non-parties as a responsible third party. Whether any imbalance in the proportionate responsibility framework impinges constitutional safeguards or simply reflects the legislature’s considered judgment on matters of public policy remains to be decided. The Texas Supreme Court observed that while the RTP statute “initially equated responsibility with liability to the plaintiff or claimant, this is no longer the case.” While aggrieved plaintiffs may have legitimate constitutional concerns of their own, their most compelling constitutional challenge might be one made on behalf of a designated responsible third party who is deprived of its due process right to defend its reputation. Construing the RTP statute to not allow the designation of most immune non-parties would ensure that the statute survives most constitutional challenges.


St. Mary's University School of Law