The Titanic-bound submersible “Titan” will not be going on in any further voyages. The Titan lost communication with its surface vessel on June 18, 2023. Following multiple days of a massive search for the submersible, US authorities announced that they had located debris and concluded that the vessel had suffered an implosion that left all five people aboard dead. Among the deceased was Stockton Rush, the co-founder and CEO of OceanGate.
The Titan had previously made voyages to the Titanic in 2021 and 2022. Due to the weather conditions, the Titan was only scheduled for one trip down to the Titanic in 2023. The Titan had briefly gone lost on one occasion in 2022 before reestablishing contact and experienced a malfunction issue in 2021. OceanGate offered to take passengers down to the Titanic for $250,000 per passenger. Passengers purportedly had to sign a waiver confirming their knowledge that it is an “experimental” vessel “that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, and could result in physical injury, disability, emotional trauma or death.”
In 2018, OceanGate employees documented safety concerns about Titan. OceanGate had not performed nondestructive testing on the vessel’s hull before any dives. Rush, OceanGate’s late CEO, had criticized safety laws and supposedly said “at some point, safety is just pure waste.”
Can Passengers Waive Their Right to File a Lawsuit If They Die?
OceanGate may rely on the waivers that passengers had to sign before they were permitted to board the Titan to avoid the potential wrongful death suits that may follow. However, such waivers face a number of potential issues for OceanGate to be effective. First, this incident occurred in international waters. There are a variety of jurisdictions in different countries or even different American states that may not recognize these waivers or that may be more favorable for the deceased than for paper waivers. Second, in many jurisdictions, written waivers cannot remove liability for gross negligence. Negligence is a person’s failure to use reasonable care that results in damage or injury to another. Gross negligence is willful, wanton, and reckless conduct that is over and above ordinary negligence. A written waiver can exclude liability for a gym when a user falls off a treadmill. However, a gym places the treadmill next to other equipment and causes the user to strike her head on other equipment after falling off the treadmill might be liable for gross negligence.
OceanGate’s failure to conduct certain testing on its submersible casts doubt on whether the company had willfully placed passengers in danger. Indeed, Rush’s own comments suggests that the company was not concerned with safety and knowingly ignored potential problems. If a court determines that these issues rise to the level of gross negligence rather than ordinary negligence, the waivers may not save OceanGate from potential lawsuits for this disaster.
Do I Need the Help of a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you have sustained a personal injury through the unlawful act of another, then you should contact a personal injury attorney. A skilled personal injury lawyer in your state can review the facts of your case, go over your rights and options, and represent you in court.
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