Kreindler Monitoring the Titan Titanic Tour Submersible Tragedy
June 25, 2023
Five people were tragically killed on June 18, 2023 when the OceanGate Titan submersible they were on presumably imploded in the North Atlantic Ocean near the wreck of the Titanic.
A debris field found 1600 feet from the bow of the Titanic by Pelagic Research Services’ Odysseus 6k ROV (remote operated vehicle) was later confirmed to be that of OceanGate’s Titan submersible.
(*The Titan watercraft is usually referred to as a “submersible” instead of a sub or submarine. The main difference between a submarine and a submersible is that a submarine can leave port and come back under its own power.)
Investigation of the Titan Tragedy
According to news reports, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spokesperson Peter Knudson revealed that the investigation into the loss of the Titan will be led by the U.S. Coast Guard due to its classification as a “major marine casualty.” The NTSB will also be a part of the investigation. Additionally, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board has initiated an investigation since the support vessel, MV Polar Prince, is a Canadian ship. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will work with the NTSB and conduct a preliminary investigation as well.
Kreindler attorneys have successfully overcome signed waivers of liability in many previous cases.
The passengers on the Titan very likely signed a broadly-worded form containing waivers of liability and also a forum selection clause prior to embarking. While such contracts are sometimes enforced by maritime courts, there are numerous ways to combat them. For instance, if the safety and design of a vessel is found to be grossly negligent, a waiver could be successfully challenged to prevent enforcement. Additionally, the company’s selection of forum (jurisdiction where a dispute is heard) could also be challenged if the company purposely chose a particular venue as a means of discouraging passengers from pursuing a legitimate claim.
Many reports point to serious safety issues concerning Titan, including a former OceanGate employee’s noted concerns in a 2018 court filing. A letter from an industry group (also in 2018) warned that OceanGate’s CEO was misleading the public with claims that the Titan met industry safety standards. There are serious questions regarding the Titan ever being certified by an independent safety organization to safely and reliably descend to the depths that it advertised.
Kreindler Experience with Maritime Legal Challenges
In addition to the the waivers of liability in this case, there may be other legal obstacles to overcome in the event of litigation. Kreindler is experienced in overcoming maritime legal obstacles- both procedural and substantive, and our work for our clients routinely navigates challenges, including:
- Challenging Signed Waivers of Liability
- Overcoming Forum Non-Conveniens (FNC)
- Death on High Seas Act (DOHSA)
- Limited Liability Act of 1851
- Receiving financially-based compensatory damages, i.e. loss of future income and/or loss of inheritance, which could be substantial
Limitation of Liability Act of 1851
It is possible that OceanGate may attempt to avoid legal responsibility by utilizing the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, which was a legal tactic used by the owners of the Titanic more than a century ago. This act, also known as the Limitation Act or the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, applies to all types of marine vessels, including commercial and private boats. The law allows the owner a of vessel involved in an accident to ask a federal court to limit any damages to the present value of the vessel, regardless of the actual amount of the claims. Since the Titan was destroyed, the present value of the craft would be zero. The law was enacted over 170 years ago, prior to the Civil War, to assist in safeguarding America’s shipping industry by reducing some of the financial risks that shipowners faced when sending their vessels into unpredictable waters.
Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a legal provision that allows the families of individuals who lost their lives in maritime accidents to pursue compensation from the vessel owner. Compensation is limited to allow people who were financially dependent on the person who died in the naval accident to seek the portion of that person’s future earnings that they would have received had the accident not occurred. Any non-economic damages, like emotional distress, pain and suffering are not payable under DOHSA.
Establishing jurisdiction could prove complicated. Where the implosion occurred - in international waters, and being essentially towed out to sea to get to the launch site presents some unusual issues. Also, the passengers on board the Titan submersible were from England, Pakistan, France and the United States - which on its own is not unusual for law firms experienced with international litigation. OceanGate Expeditions, owner and operator of the Titan, is reported to be a U.S. company based out of Everett, Washington. Reportedly, the submersible was registered in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The Polar Prince, the Titan’s mothership which carried the submersible to international waters is Canadian flagged. Each of these issues will be examined more closely as the investigation continues.
Kreindler Notable Related Cases
MV Conception Scuba Dive Boat Fire Tragedy
Kreindler attorneys Dan Rose and Kevin Mahoney are currently litigating claims arising from the Conception scuba vessel fire that occurred on September 2, 2019. Thirty-four people were killed in one of the worst maritime disasters in recent history. Kreindler is prosecuting claims against both the owner of the vessel and the United States Coast Guard in California federal court.
Kreindler partners Dan Rose and Justin Green successfully represented the family of Emmy award-winning cinematographer Mike deGruy after the fatal crash of a Robinson R44 helicopter during the making of National Geographic’s television documentary, DeepSea Challenge. He was working on the documentary which follows “Titanic” film director James Cameron as he leads an expedition to Challenger Deep, the deepest oceanic trench on Earth, located in the western Pacific Ocean.
Kreindler attorneys successfully represented families of victims following the 2015 sinking of the cargo ship El Faro during Hurricane Joaquin. Kreindler’s investigation continued where the government’s investigation left off - finding additional, favorable information for our clients.
In the Media
No law firm in the world has represented more families involved in international, cross-border wrongful death cases than Kreindler. Since 1950, our attorneys have handled cases involving victims of aircraft and maritime accidents across various bodies of water, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, state waters, and the high seas. We have successfully litigated case laws such as the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, and the Death on the High Seas Act and have overcome jurisdictional challenges. Kreindler has offices in New York, Boston and Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard