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Titanic Sub: Potential Lawsuits by Victims’ Families Remain Possible Despite Liability Waivers
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Liability waivers signed by passengers aboard the ill-fated Titan submersible, which was lost at sea during a dive to the Titanic wreck, may not absolve the vessel’s owner from potential lawsuits by the victims’ families, according to legal experts. The submersible, known as the Titan, disappeared on Sunday, meeting a tragic fate with a “catastrophic implosion” of its pressure chamber, as determined by the U.S. Coast Guard.

While the passengers who embarked on this extraordinary journey had reportedly signed liability waivers, the effectiveness of such waivers is not always guaranteed. Judges often reject waivers if evidence of gross negligence or undisclosed hazards emerges. Matthew D. Shaffer, a personal injury attorney and maritime law expert based in Texas, explained that if any aspects of the vessel’s design or construction were concealed from the passengers or if it was knowingly operated despite being unsuitable for the dive, the validity of the waivers could be called into question.

OceanGate, the company that operated the ill-fated submersible, could argue that it was not grossly negligent and that the waivers applied, as they allegedly described the inherent dangers of exploring the ocean’s deepest depths in a minivan-sized submersible. However, the extent of any potential negligence and its impact on the waivers’ applicability hinges on the findings of the ongoing investigation into the causes of the disaster.

  
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Personal injury lawyer Joseph Low of California pointed out that numerous factors could potentially render the waivers ineffective, but until the cause of the incident is determined, it remains uncertain whether the waivers would hold up. It should be noted that the families of the victims were unavailable for comment at the time of reporting, and it is possible that none of them will pursue legal action.

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OceanGate, a small company based in Everett, Washington, may face challenges in terms of financial capacity to pay significant damages, assuming they are awarded. However, if the company holds an insurance policy, the families could potentially seek compensation from that source. Additionally, if any external parties involved in designing, building, or providing components for the Titan are found to be negligent and responsible for the implosion, the families could also pursue damages from them.

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OceanGate could file a limitation of liability action under maritime law to limit potential liabilities. This legal provision allows vessel owners involved in accidents to request that a federal court cap the damages at the present value of the vessel, which, in this case, would be zero since the Titan was completely destroyed. However, to succeed in such a claim, OceanGate would need to prove its lack of knowledge regarding potential defects in the submersible, a burden of proof that legal experts consider to be challenging.

If OceanGate fails to obtain limitation of liability and prove its innocence, the families of the victims would be free to file negligence or wrongful death lawsuits. Additionally, the Death on the High Seas Act, another maritime law, permits financially dependent individuals of deceased victims in naval accidents to seek only a portion of the person’s future earnings that they would have otherwise received. Compensation for pain and suffering is not recoverable under this act.



During the discovery phase, which involves sharing information between involved parties, the knowledge OceanGate possessed regarding the submersible’s safety and the information conveyed to the passengers would be crucial factors. In this context, plaintiffs could potentially reference a previous lawsuit against OceanGate from 2018, in which a former employee, David Lochridge, raised concerns about safety that he claimed were ignored. The case was ultimately settled on undisclosed terms. Additionally, in 2018, a group of industry leaders expressed serious safety concerns about the Titan and criticized OceanGate’s decision not to certify the submersible through third-party organizations like the American Bureau of Shipping, a renowned classifier of submersibles.

As the investigation unfolds and more details come to light, the legal landscape surrounding the tragic incident involving the Titan submersible and its potential implications for OceanGate and the victims’ families will become clearer.

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