OceanGate’s Future in Question: Why Successful Legal Action Against the Submersible Firm Seems Doubtful

by Tatsuya Nakamura
6 comments
OceanGate Lawsuit

Legal experts anticipate potential lawsuits against OceanGate Expeditions, but these would face considerable obstacles due to intricate jurisdictional matters and waivers that passengers signed, acknowledging the risks involved. Even with these issues, there could be room for legal action if it is demonstrated that the company falsely represented the submersible’s safety. Internal safety and quality control issues raised in the past may also be relevant to possible lawsuits. Credit: OceanGate Expeditions.

The imploded submersible “Titan’s” discovery has raised questions about OceanGate Expeditions’ accountability. While jurisdictional problems and passenger waivers may obstruct legal proceedings, misrepresentation of safety might provide a potential legal path. However, the company’s potential financial collapse following the tragedy could render any lawsuits irrelevant.

After an extensive search, the U.S. Coast Guard announced on June 22 that they had found debris from the missing submersible “Titan”, which was consistent with “a catastrophic implosion of the vessel.”

As the focus shifts towards the company’s potential liability for the disaster, legal experts from Northeastern University and a former Coast Guard official agree that any lawsuit will face significant hurdles.

Richard Daynard, a distinguished professor at Northeastern University School of Law, suggests that a lawsuit may only be possible if the company misrepresented the safety of the submersible, otherwise it falls under ‘assumption of the risk’.

Steve Flynn, a retired Coast Guard officer and director of Northeastern’s Global Resilience Institute, along with a professor of political science and an affiliate of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, expects a lawsuit to be “almost certain”. However, he emphasizes that determining jurisdiction in such a case could be difficult.

After the “Titan” submerged on a Sunday morning and lost contact with its support vessel approximately an hour and 45 minutes later, an international search-and-rescue mission was launched. The submersible was carrying five passengers on a mission to survey the Titanic’s wreckage.

As the world watched the rescue mission, the Coast Guard announced on June 22 afternoon that debris from the Titan was found, indicating a “catastrophic implosion of the vessel”.

OceanGate Expeditions, a private company that manages trips on the Titan, announced that same afternoon that the passengers “have sadly been lost.”

Can OceanGate anticipate a lawsuit over the tragedy? Such a lawsuit would not be straightforward.

Previous passengers, who paid $250,000 for a place in the vessel, signed a waiver that explicitly mentioned the risk of death.

In this context, a successful plaintiff would have to show that OceanGate was reckless or grossly negligent. But the mere danger of the activity does not equate to negligence.

However, there is a potential opening for a lawsuit if the company misrepresented the safety of the submersible to its passengers.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who was also a passenger on the submersible, expressed in a 2019 Smithsonian Magazine article that passenger-vessel regulations were hindering innovation.

OceanGate has previously stated that its submersible incorporated features outside the standard regulations and hence was not classed according to the standard regulatory process.

David Lochridge, the former director of marine operations at OceanGate, claimed in a 2018 lawsuit that he had raised “safety and quality control issues”, but was disregarded and subsequently dismissed.

However, even if a lawsuit is filed, Daynard emphasizes that “lawsuits are not generally brought unless there’s a reasonable chance of success.”

Another reason why a lawsuit might not be filed, according to Northeastern law professor Sonia Rolland, is the possible financial collapse of the company due to the damage to its reputation. She states, “There is no point in suing a company that does not have financial resources.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about OceanGate Lawsuit

What are the potential legal challenges facing a lawsuit against OceanGate Expeditions?

Legal proceedings against OceanGate Expeditions may face significant challenges due to complex jurisdiction issues and waivers signed by passengers acknowledging potential risks. Furthermore, the company’s potential financial collapse following the tragedy could render lawsuits irrelevant.

Can passengers sue OceanGate Expeditions despite signing a waiver?

Yes, passengers can sue even if they signed a waiver. However, with such a waiver, a plaintiff would have to prove that OceanGate acted recklessly or was grossly negligent. There could also be grounds for a lawsuit if the company misrepresented the safety of the submersible.

How did the company, OceanGate Expeditions, respond to the tragedy?

OceanGate Expeditions, the private company that manages trips on the Titan, acknowledged the tragedy and expressed their belief that the passengers “have sadly been lost.”

Is there evidence of previous safety concerns with OceanGate’s operations?

Yes, the former director of marine operations at OceanGate, David Lochridge, claimed in a 2018 lawsuit that he warned the company about “safety and quality control issues,” but his concerns were ignored and he was subsequently dismissed.

What does the “assumption of risk” mean in this context?

The term “assumption of risk” refers to a legal doctrine under which an individual is considered to have voluntarily taken on the risk of harm. In this case, by agreeing to travel in the submersible, passengers may have assumed certain risks, which could impact potential lawsuits.

More about OceanGate Lawsuit

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6 comments

InnovationChaser July 10, 2023 - 5:40 am

Stockton Rush has a point though, Regulations can stifle innovation. There’s a delicate balance needed here.

Reply
Jake43 July 10, 2023 - 12:43 pm

man, what a tragedy. you’d think these kinda things would be safe in this day n age, huh? It’s 2023 for crying out loud!

Reply
LawStudent101 July 10, 2023 - 7:44 pm

It’s gonna be tough to bring a lawsuit against OceanGate, specially with the waiver and all. I’d be interested to see how this pans out.

Reply
DebbieD July 10, 2023 - 9:48 pm

Such a sad story. Those poor passengers… And just think, they probably thought they were going on the adventure of a lifetime.

Reply
OldSalt July 10, 2023 - 10:30 pm

I’ve been in the maritime industry for years, and let me tell you, it’s a complex beast. Jurisdiction, regulations, safety… nothing’s ever simple.

Reply
TechGeek77 July 11, 2023 - 3:09 am

Honestly, who would sign a waiver like that? I mean, I get the thrill of adventure but this is just… I dunno… reckless?

Reply

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