Highlights

  • Families of the victims can still sue OceanGate despite liability waivers
  • Judges can reject the waiver if there is evidence of negligence or hazards that were not fully disclosed

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Titan submersible: Victims' families can still sue owner OceanGate, despite liability waivers

While OceanGate can file limitation of liability action under maritime law to protect itself from damages, families of the victims can also sue the company for gross negligence despite the liability waiver 

Titan submersible: Victims' families can still sue owner OceanGate, despite liability waivers

Families of the Titan's submersible victims can still sue the vessel owner OceanGate, legal experts told Reuters. They added, that this can be done despite the liability waiver signed by the passengers.

Reuters quoted a CBS reporter who took the trip with OceanGate Expeditions in July 2022. As per the reporter, just the first page of the waiver mentioned the possibility of death thrice.

It is also to be noted that Judges can reject the waiver if there is evidence of negligence or hazards that were not fully disclosed.

“If there were aspects of the design or construction of this vessel that were kept from the passengers or it was knowingly operated despite information that it was not suitable for this dive, that would absolutely go against the validity of the waiver," said personal injury attorney and maritime law expert Matthew D. Shaffer, who is based in Texas to Reuters.

At the same time, OceanGate can argue that it wasn't negligent and that all the dangers involved with the submersible were declared to the passengers before the trip. Law experts now say that the degree of any potential negligence and how that might impact the applicability of the waivers will depend on the causes of the disaster, which are still under investigation.

"There are so many different examples of what families might still have claims for despite the waivers, but until we know the cause we can't determine whether the waivers apply," said personal injury lawyer Joseph Low of California to Reuters.

The families can also sue third parties that were involved in the design, manufacture or helped building the components that were responsible for the implosion.

The Different Scenerios

Various legal scenerios can play out regarding the implosion of the submersible. They include

  1. Option: OceanGate can file limitation of liability action under maritime law to protect itself from damages. 'Limitation of liability action' is a priviledge given to the ship owners and certain other persons to limit their amount of liability to the present value of the vessel. However, in this case, since the Titan is destroyed the liability would be zero.
    Action: As per Reuters, OceanGate will have to prove that they had no knowledge of potential defects and would carry out the burden of proof. Burden of proof is carried by one party to prove that they are correct whereas the opposition is presumed to be correct. If OceanGate fails to prove then the families can file negligence or wrongful death lawsuits.

  2. Option: The Death on the High Seas Act of the Maritime law allows people who were financially dependent on someone who died in a naval accident to seek only the portion of that person's future earnings that they would have otherwise received. Action: Plaintiffs cannot recover losses for pain and suffering in those cases.

  3. Option: Plaintiffs can also cite allegations of safety lapses at the OceanGate that was made by a former employee in 2018. As per Reuters, the employee, David Lochridge, said he raised "serious safety concerns" but was ignored. That case was settled on undisclosed terms, court records show. Action: What OceanGate knew about the vessel’s safety and what the passengers were told about it would be the central questions during discovery, a process during which parties share information about a case.

The Titan Submersible vanished on Sunday and was found in pieces on the ocean floor. The U.S. coast guard declared on Thursday that the submersible was destroyed by a "catastrophic implosion" of its pressure chamber.


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