Death on the High Seas: Is OceanGate Liable?

After the death of the passengers aboard the OceanGate Submarine, the media and the public have been wondering whether OceanGate is going to be sued for the deaths of the passengers.

Since all of the passengers signed liability waivers, it may appear there is no room for the families of the deceased to sue, but a liability waiver doesn’t guarantee that no suit can be filed. A judge or jury can negate the liability waiver if it is found that OceanGate was grossly negligent.

So, what is gross negligence? Gross negligence occurs when there is reckless or deliberate disregard for the reasonable treatment or safety of others. This is a step further than negligence, which is when an accidental mistake affects the safety of others.

This means that in discovery, the victims’ families will be attempting to prove that OceanGate acted with reckless disregard for safety procedures. Let’s investigate the evidence made public so far.

Working in OceanGate’s favor is the wording of the liability waiver. Previous travelers on the OceanGate submarine said that their waiver made you acknowledge that the submarine was an experimental vessel, it was not approved or certified by any regulatory authority, and that it may be constructed of materials not commonly used in submarines.

Aside from resting on the waiver, the OceanGate legal team will likely try to limit their losses by filing a limitation of liability under maritime law, which if granted, would limit the damages to the present value of the vessel. The current value of the vessel is likely nothing as it has been destroyed. This would mean OceanGate will not pay a dime in damages.

The catch is that OceanGate would have to prove it had no knowledge of potential defects, which requires a high burden of proof.

Benefiting the victims are the claims made by Oceangate’s former director of Marine Operations, David Lochridge. Lochridge claims he was wrongfully terminated after raising concerns about the submarines lack of “quality control and safety” which “paying passengers would not be aware of.”

Aside from raising concerns about the vessel’s safety, Lochridge claimed that OceanGate refused to conduct “critical, non-destructive testing of the experimental design.”

If a judge rules that OceanGate did not engage in practices that are grossly negligent, there still might be the option for the families to sue the manufacturer of the part that malfunctioned and caused a catastrophic failure.

The lawyers at Kirsch, Stone & Morgan have repeatedly and successfully hurdled liability waivers to obtain favorable results for their clients. If you or a family member have been involved in an accident, contact the lawyers at Kirsch, Stone & Morgan and protect your rights.