Can the Family Members of the Victims of the Titan Submarine Sue OceanGate?
Experts Warned of Catastrophic Consequences of the “Experimental and Untested Design of the Titan”
For four days, the world was captivated by an intriguing and shocking story: the disappearance of the tourist submarine Titan. Or rather, submersible. The vessel carrying five crew members to view the wreckage of the famed doomed ship, Titanic, has been on the screens of millions of people around the world. Although we all wished for an epic miracle outcome, the results were not as expected. The ship was not located within the 96 hours of oxygen available to them. However, the most convoluted part of this story is its disturbing context, which led to the five families’ misfortune. Most likely, the families of the Titan submarine victims will file a lawsuit against the manufacturer for wrongful death.
Leaving aside the cause of death, which will be investigated in the coming months -although it has already been confirmed that they died by implosion, the question many of us are asking is: whose fault is it? Could the incident have been avoided? What safety measures were in place in case of an accident? As we will see below, several experts and previous participants of the expedition claim that the ship’s construction was precarious and defective.
In addition to the defects, former passengers on the submersible have corroborated that the company forces each person on board to sign a liability waiver to cover injury or death. But, to what extent can a company walk away unscathed from a fatal accident when knowing that its product is defective and puts lives at risk? In this blog, this story is viewed from a personal injury perspective. Read on if you don’t want to miss out on the legal intricacies surrounding one of the most famous maritime catastrophes of all time.
Catastrophic Titan Implosion: What Happened?
Let’s start the story from the first day the ship went missing. The vessel Titan prepared to start the expedition at 6 a.m. on Sunday, June 18. There were a total of five people on board. Among them was the pilot, Stockton Rush, who was the CEO of OceanGate, manufacturer of the submersible. The other four passengers had paid $250,000 to see the seabed where the historic ship rests.
To access the wreckage of the Titanic, the vessel has to descend to 4,000 meters (13,000 feet); it is one of the few submersibles in the world capable of reaching great depths. True to its name, it is made of titanium and carbon fiber. These metals are necessary to withstand the high pressure of 400 atmospheres.
The voyage lasts about eight hours and is divided into three phases: two and a half hours of descent, three hours of exploration of the Titanic, and two and a half hours for the ascent back to the surface. In total, the ship had a total of 96 hours of oxygen for emergencies.
Communications from the Titan were lost an hour and 45 minutes after the descent began. Despite losing the signal at around 9 a.m., the crew did not alert the U.S. Coast Guard until after 5 p.m. Once the alarm was raised, dozens of experts and former passengers discussed what might have happened.
Accounts of complicated experiences aboard the Titan, the construction model, and statements from former employees foreshadowed the worst.
Five days after the disappearance, OceanGate confirmed that the five passengers were killed by an implosion.
The Vessel Was Not Approved by Any Regulator
In 2009, Stockton Rush founded OceanGate, based in Everett, Washington. Since they started the project in 2021, Titan has made the trip three times. Once per year, with this last one being a deadly voyage.
Speculation about the ship and its manufacture has always been on the agenda. Its operation and control have been described as precarious and basic. In fact, it is operated with a Logitech wireless game controller, and ascent and descent work with a single button. But that’s not all, as the submersible has no radar or GPS navigation system.
What generated the most controversy is how an unlicensed and uncertified company can conduct such risky expeditions. As they themselves announce, the submersible is “experimental” and has not been approved by “any regulatory body.”
Such skepticism sparked concern among scientists at the Society for Marine Technology. Approximately 38 experts sent a signed letter to OceanGate in 2018 criticizing the company’s model. The letter stated that the company and its “experimental approach” submersibles did not meet safety standards, which could lead to “serious consequences for everyone in the industry.”
It is worth mentioning that the technology and regulation of deepwater submersibles are not fully settled. This, coupled with the fact that the expedition takes place in international waters, results in Titan not having to follow any country’s regulations.
Former Passengers Report Similar Cases Aboard Titan
As we have already noted, the Titan got to see the Titanic two other times since 2021. However, the craft has been tried dozens more times. Bad weather conditions and, above all, technical problems during the immersion have not allowed it to make any more trips. This has been corroborated by several members who had attempted to dive in deep water to see the Titanic.
David Pogue, from CBS, and Mike Reiss, writer of The Simpsons, told the press about their experience on the Titan. The journalist was the most critical of their trip, confirming that the OceanGate submarine also derailed while he was aboard. “We were lost for two hours. Communication somehow broke down, and the submersible never made it to the Titanic.” Pogue described the ship as “experimental and amazingly basic inside,” claiming that some parts looked “improvised.” On the other hand, Reiss said he was not afraid during the dive. Although he did confirm that they lost communication on the four previous times he has boarded an OceanGate submersible.
OceanGate Faced Federal Safety Lawsuit in 2018
The company managing the missing submersible in the North Atlantic was warned several times about the vessel’s risk. In addition to the industry complaint, in 2018 OceanGate also faced a lawsuit from a former worker. David Lochridge, the company’s director of marine operations at the time, compiled a negative report on the craft. After refusing to accept the assurances imposed by the chief engineer, Lochridge was fired. The former employee’s concerns were focused on the need for further fault-finding tests in the event of pressure problems.
This led Lochridge to file a federal lawsuit in federal district court in Seattle. He alleged that passengers could be in danger when they reached “extreme underwater depths.” OceanGate countered and sued Lochridge for breach of a confidentiality agreement. In response, Lochridge filed another claim for wrongful termination after he expressed distrust about the Titan submarine’s safety and its unproven experimental design.
OceanGate’s Choices “Subject Passengers to Potential Extreme Danger in an Experimental Submersible”
According to the maritime expert, the company’s proposed failure detection plan was problematic, “because this type of acoustic analysis would only alert people” about imminent problems. Basically, when a component was about to fail, “which would often occur milliseconds before an implosion.”
The Titan submarine defective design lawsuit also criticizes OceanGate’s decisions. Primarily, when it came to obtaining the proper certificates to ensure safety. Although the submersible was designed to descend 4,000 meters, the passenger window was only certified to reach a depth of 1,300 meters. And, despite the risk involved, the company did not want to pay the manufacturer to produce a certified window for 4,000 meters.
OceanGate Liability Waiver
OceanGate Expeditions, aware of the potential dangers involved in an experimental submersible, requires each person on board to sign a disclaimer to participate in the expedition. This form specifically states the following: “This experimental vessel has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, emotional trauma, or death.” Screenwriter Reis, asserted that he visualized the word “death” at least three times on the first sheet. The goal was to avoid a Titan submarine malfunction lawsuit at all costs.
Aware of the warnings about the lack of safety on the vessel, experts believe that OceanGate attempted to wash its hands in the event of a possible catastrophe. This makes even more sense if we analyze Rush’s words during a podcast in which he participated in 2022. The founder did not hesitate to state that investing in security is “pure waste.” In fact, he encouraged listeners to take the plunge without overly assessing the consequences. “If you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed, don’t get in your car, don’t do anything. At some point, you’re going to take some risk, and the truth is, it’s a risk-reward question.”
After all this information, thousands of legal questions must be flooding the minds of curious onlookers. To what extent can a company gamble with the lives of its customers? Were the passengers aware of the real risks involved in the dive? Why weren’t stricter safety measures implemented after complaints from former employees and the industry?
What is a Disclaimer?
A disclaimer is a legal document that guarantees that clients are aware of the inherent risks of the service in question. By accepting it, individuals affirm that the company is not liable for any injuries or damages caused as a result. In other words, the individual assumes the risk involved in the service proposed by a provider. Usually, for services involving certain health risks, the signing of this waiver form is mandatory.
What Role Does “Duty of Care” Play?
When it comes to civil liability law, the duty of care is a legal obligation imposed on a person or company. Duty of care remains regardless of the existence or not of a disclaimer of liability. And, therefore, it requires the performance of a reasonable standard of care to avoid actions that may harm third parties. In other words, it is the moral and legal obligation of a company to comply with measures to ensure the health of employees or customers.
In the OceanGate case, the company owed a duty of care to the passengers of its ship’s crew. This duty had to be implemented through protocols and by establishing safety measures of the utmost reliability. After analyzing the dark history surrounding the submersible company, the safety conflicts it faced in recent years, and the opinions of experts, there are indications of negligence from OceanGate. Lack of transparency regarding the reliability of the vessel, recklessness, or the absence of protocols will be key aspects before the court in the case of a Titan submarine lawsuit.
So, Can a Victim Sue if They Have Signed a Waiver of Liability?
Waivers may induce injury victims not to explore their legal options. And, as a result, they would forego any potential litigation. Hence, the importance of knowing your rights. If not, pay attention to how the future Titan submarine lawsuit progresses.
Many people believe that when they sign a liability waiver for participating in a risky activity, they have no right to pursue legal action in the event of injury. But nothing could be further from the truth. There are many factors to consider when a direct or indirect injury occurs under the supervision of a company. Therefore, if someone was injured at a theme park or while practicing water sports, he or she will be able to file a claim. The key is, as we have indicated, the duty of care.
However, the fact that you can initiate legal proceedings does not mean that it will be a simple process. Quite the contrary. The victim will have to prove gross negligence for the waiver to be invalid. According to Cornell University, this concept means that there was “a lack of care that demonstrates a reckless disregard for the safety or life of others.”
This type of action requires the assistance of an experienced attorney with experience in high-profile cases involving large corporations. In the case of a Titan submarine lawsuit, victims will need the guidance of a legal expert to demonstrate that the disclaimer is void for a variety of reasons: whether the workers were not properly prepared for the dive, the company failed to inspect for defects to remedy the accident, or that there was a lack of transparency about the danger of the situation.
Know Your Rights
Suffering accidents with tragic consequences is a very hard process for families and surviving victims. The negligence performed by OceanGate will bring very negative consequences for the company, as the victims will seek to claim justice due to the Titan submarine accident, initiating a lawsuit soon. When cases of such magnitude occur, it is best to contact legal experts. They will handle your case most efficiently. These professionals have knowledge and prior experience in all types of litigation. They will represent you to obtain the maximum possible compensation for the damages caused.
Adamson Ahdoot has more than 100 years of combined legal experience in the personal injury field. We have achieved highly successful settlements for thousands of clients involving every type of accident. Don’t hesitate to contact our team if you have been the victim of negligence.
Call us today at (800) 310-1606 if you would like to learn about your legal options for your case. Your first consultation is completely free and without obligation. Our bilingual Spanish and English-speaking team is available 24/7.
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