At approximately 11:40 pm, while on it's maiden voyage April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. "Titanic" struck an iceberg off the coast off of Newfoundland, sinking a couple of hours later with a loss of lives of 1,522 passengers and crew. When the motion picture "Titanic" was popular entertainment, I embarked on researching the lawsuit history as the result of tragic sinking of the vessel with a large loss of lives. It appears that the there were hundreds of lawsuits filed in the United States and British courts. Unfortunately, I was able to locate only one published report. There were legal squabbles to whether United States citizens could file suit in a U.S. court since the "Titanic" was a foreign flagged vessel.
The case is cited as Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited, as Owner of the Steamship "Titanic v. William Miller and Harry Anderson, U.S. Supreme Court 58 L. ed, 716. The Supreme Court considered two matters. First, do the United States Courts have the authority to judicated the lawsuits? Second, is the U.S Limitation of Liability for $96,000 applicable? The answer to both questions was "yes". The liability limit of $96,000 was for all lawsuits.
Since the liability, limits based on the value of the hull were insufficient and many of the injured or drowned passengers and crew were British subjects, it was agreed among the affected parties that U.S., citizens can sue in the United States and British subjects sue in Great Britain. The total limit of liability was set at $960,000 in the United States and the equivalent of $2,000,000 in Great Britain.
It is worthwhile to download the numerous articles in the accompanying www.encylopedia-titanic.org for this contains the Investigation and Report of the United States and British governments.
Over the years there has been a number of theories how the "Titanic", designed as being "unsinkable" sank but there seems to be little debate over why the vessel collided with an iceberg, sank resulting in so many deaths. The vessel was moving at an excessive speed in an ocean area prone to be occupied by icebergs. The vessel was alleged to have water tight bulkheads but these did not extend to the underside of the deck above, leaving a space that permitted sea water to flow from one bulk headed area to another and so on.
The number of lifeboats was inadequate for the number of passengers and crew.
As the result of the investigations by the United States and Great Britain, a Convention known as SOLAS (Safety if Life at Sea) was held by the maritime companies. It took about nine years after the first meeting to get recommendations made applicable to passenger vessels. There was the requirement to have sufficient lifeboat facilities for the passengers and crew.
Watertight bulkheads had to be constructed to be individually watertight. There have been numerous improvement requirements over the ensuing years such as enclosed lifeboats, fire and smoke detection and automatic sprinkler systems, fire training and drills for crew. At the time of the "Titanic", there was no requirement for lifeboat drills or requiring passengers to be instructed what is required of them in the event of needing to abandon the vessel. Unlike the "Titanic" modern passenger vessels have all sorts of radar, electronic safety and navigational equipment. In oceans where there is a likelihood of icebergs, nation Coast Guards track these and keep ships informed.
There are still passenger vessels operating as cruise ships that do not comply with current requirements of SOLAS 74 and booking a cruise on these vessels should be avoided. The main impediment is some passenger vessels may not have automatic fire sprinklers throughout . Usually the ships are older, non-conforming to SOLAS 74 that are sold off by the major cruise lines. The fire and sinking of the cruise ship "Sun Vista" off the coast of Malaysia is an example. It was a former Celebrity Cruise Line vessel, the "Meridian" that did not comply with SOLAS 74, not having automatic sprinklers. It was sold to an Asian cruise line.
Passenger vessels embarking and disembarking United States citizens in U.S. ports are required to post a 15 million dollar bond and carry indemnity insurance. Total liability today for injury or death is the value of the ship hull. Many of the modern cruised ships are valued at over $300-$400 million.
See Walter Lord's book "The Night Lives On" -- in chapter 15, he discusses this subject in detail.
I think you'll find it an fascinating read! It's interesting that many of the wealthy passenger's families declined to participate in the lawsuits, as to them, it was impossible to put a price on someone's life.
Also of note is that even in the early Twentieth Century, things were as they are today. White Star line paid out $664,000 (in 1916 dollars), and of course, admitted to no wrong-doing............
Speaking about SOLAS. Is it true there is supose to be the same amount of life jackets
for the passengers and crew on the lido deck as there are in the cabins? The reason I asked
this question is that if passengers and crew on the lido deck and we are called to our muster
stations because of a emergency I would not want to go to my cabin to get my life jacket
which may be in the direction of the problem. What do you think?