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by Jeff Rasansky -
Jeff Rasansky
Jeff Rasansky, managing partner of Rasansky Law Firm, is an aggressive Dallas personal injury lawyer with more than 25 years of legal experience.

Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, but not many people know about the lawsuits that followed.

Titanic Disaster Lawsuits

RMS Titanic

If you didn’t know, today is the 104-year anniversary of the Titanic disaster. One of the social media posts I saw on the topic had a comment “If the Titanic disaster happened today, there would be so many lawsuits.” While this statement is supposed to be a condemnation of today’s “litigious society,” it shows a (quite common) misunderstanding of the civil justice system. If everyone owned up to their mistakes, played fair and paid for the harms they’ve caused, we wouldn’t have to file lawsuits. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. A lawsuit is oftentimes the only way of compelling a negligent company to pay for the harm that they’ve caused.

Does it surprise you to learn that, yes, in fact there were many lawsuits filed as a result of the RMS Titanic disaster? When the Titanic sank, leading to the loss of life and property, surviving passengers and the relatives of those who had died filed a levy of claims against the transport company which sold tickets to the mega ship’s maiden voyage.

Among the claimants was Anna Sofia Sjöblom, a passenger who was fortunate enough to make it out alive after being thrown off the deck and into one of the lifeboats as the ship sunk. She had spent most of her time on the ship in her bunk due to sea sickness.  Unfortunately, one of the crew members also jumped onto her lifeboat and landed on her head, leaving her with extensive head and spine injuries.

$16 million in claims.

The survivors of this tragedy (and the families of those killed) filed claims totaling about $16 million (though some reports say $13M). However, the shipping company which operated the Titanic at the time contested the claims, alleging that there was a clause within the passenger tickets which absolved them of liability. Additionally, they stated that circumstances leading to the accident were unforeseeable. Lastly, it was claimed that things like visibility, warning telegrams and whether or not the Titanic’s safe speed limits were broken should be taken into account by the court system.

Eventually, the plaintiffs and defendant settled for a total sum of only $664,000 on December 17th, 1915. This wasn’t a substantial amount of money given the fact that it was meant to be shared among all survivors and families of those killed in the disaster. The amount that was paid out came to less than 20 percent of what survivors and families of deceased individuals were asking for in the beginning.

The legal system then and now.

This case just goes to show that even 100 years ago, victims had to fight to get any compensation from the companies who were deemed responsible for such a tragedy. The legal battle played out in the U.S. Supreme Court; however, the main trial took place in Britain. The courts ruled for damage caps that favored White Star Line (the transport company) and the case was eventually settled out of court. Given the lack of evidence and sketchy eyewitness accounts at the time, I would guess that in today’s legal arena, claimants would have had a better chance of recovering what they were owed.

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    It’d be interesting to know if White Star considered drawing in shipbuilders Harland & Wolfe as third-parties, and how far liability would have stretched (to the steel millers? the rivet-makers?). In a way, modern litigation is perhaps better suited to getting to the right outcome, given that it’s more common now to have very large multi-party cases with multiple forensic experts.

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    The White Star Line also filed a maritime action for Limitation of Liability to hold the maximum amount of liability to be the value of the vessel AFTER the loss. Since the ship was a total loss the only parts recovered were 16 or so lifeboats. These were initially stored in a warehouse in the U.S. and later disappeared and have never been found.

    Also most of the recovered bodies are buried in Nova Scotia because the White Star Line would not pay the expense of returning the bodies to England.

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    I hate the disaster happened it was a shame a ship of such luxury which they claimed to be unsinkable which it wasn’t. Waste of money if you ask me. Who was the artist on The real Titanic?

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      The real designer was mr andrews in the movie and in real life

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    I would like to know why the captain ignored the iceberg warnings after he was a declorate sea man. And why did Mr. Thomas Andrews went down with the ship. I mean I know that he was the ships main designer and everything but he didn’t have to go down with the ship.

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      Also the captain was the best captain in England

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      I figure he felt really terrible about all the deaths that would happen and just the whole situation made him do it.

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      He was strongly encouraged to speed along in the ice burg area buy the White Star representative on board, who desperately wanted to break time time record for crossing the Atlantic. (He’s the guy that pushed his way onto a half full boat of women).

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    Maybe you should look up how the Olympic(titanic’s twin ship) an the titanic were in the same shipyard a weekend before titanic’s departure an things may seem more clear.

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    Passengers traveling on fancy cruise ships leaving Miami should take careful note of class distinctions that killed many lower class people on the Titanic. I refer to crew members who blocked and locked them below decks for fear they might disturb 1st class snobs. Titanic later successfully prevented them from winning any meaningful compensation in the law courts.

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    Yep, the courts almost ALWAYS side the BIG BUSINESSES. That’s no surprise. The judges are on the payrolls of the big businesses. Think twice before you settle out of court. By the way, $664,000 was a lot of money back then when a haircut costed a quarter and gas was $1.00 a gallon.

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    denied justice

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    Ummm I’m not sure about the haircut cost. But i do know that gas wasn’t a dollar a gallon until the 1990s. Maybe cruise boat fuel cost a dollar a gallon. Oh wait. It was coal fueled. Oh well

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