The company that operates the missing Titanic sub is likely protected from future lawsuits thanks to the 'tons of risk' that passengers incurred, legal experts say

  • Legal experts say OceanGate is likely protected from lawsuits related to the Titan's disappearance.

  • Passengers on the missing sub signed a waiver that mentioned the risk of death several times.

  • But that waiver could be challenged if OceanGate is found to be operationally negligent, an expert said.

Even as they possibly sit at the bottom of the ocean trapped in a small submersible with dwindling oxygen, the passengers aboard the missing Titan vessel are likely out of luck in more ways than one.

Search and rescue efforts are still underway after a tourist submersible carrying five people went missing on Sunday while on a dive mission to explore the Titanic ship wreck that sits 12,500 feet beneath the sea. 

The clock is ticking for the five men onboard who only have enough oxygen to last until Thursday afternoon, according to coast guard officials.

But even as new details continue to emerge about the company that operates the missing Titan sub, including the CEO's history of flippant remarks about safety, and past allegations of negligence at the oceanic exploration company, legal experts say OceanGate will almost certainly be protected from any future lawsuits stemming from the current disaster.

"The chance of family members of the passengers having a successful lawsuit against the company is close to zero," attorney Sherif Edmond El Dabe, a partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers, said in comments shared with Insider. "The passengers knowingly participated in an extremely hazardous activity and they knowingly assumed great risk."

Passengers onboard the vessel, who each paid $250,000 to take the journey to the famous shipwreck, also signed a waiver before embarking on the trip.

"Everyone on board knew this wasn't a vacation or a sightseeing trip, and the disclaimer appears to have made the risk of death very clear multiple times," lawyer Miguel Custodio, co-founder of Custodio and Dubey LLP, said in comments to Insider.

A former passenger on one of the Titan's exploratory ventures said this week that the waiver he signed before his trip mentioned the risk of death three times on the first page alone. 

"You sign a massive waiver that lists one way after another that you could die on the trip," Mike Reiss told the BBC.  "So nobody who's in this situation was caught off guard. You all know what you are getting into."

With this type of private expedition, everyone involved is "intentionally assuming tons of risk" and are ostensibly informed of the numerous dangers, making it difficult for anyone to sue OceanGate in the aftermath of tragedy, El Dabe said.

"It would be preposterous for their families to turn around and sue the company that they hired to dive to the wreck of the Titanic," he added.

That legal protection, however, only extends as far as OceanGate informed its passengers of the various risks they faced in boarding the submersible, according to Custodio.

A picture of an OceanGate vehicle
The sea exploration firm Magellan said it's working on bringing in “specialist equipment" to help the rescue mission for OceanGate’s lost Titan sub.Reuters

The waiver could be challenged if OceanGate is found to be operationally negligent, expert says

As new revelations about the company at the heart of the disaster continue to emerge, a narrative is forming of an apparently lax culture surrounding safety at OceanGate.

The company did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Stockton Rush, the founder of OceanGate and one of the five missing passengers, made several now-eyebrow-raising comments about safety regulations in recent years, describing the diving industry as "obscenely safe," and lamenting that passenger-vessel regulations were holding back innovation.

In a Smithsonian Magazine feature on the "daredevil inventor," Rush called industry safety standards "understandable but illogical," and in a 2019 blog post on OceanGate's website, he sought to explain why the Titan submersible wasn't classed according to standard regulatory process, citing "innovation."

Rush also told CBS journalist David Pogue in 2022 that "at some point, safety is just pure waste."

And perhaps most damning of all, a former OceanGate employee said he warned the company years ago that the submersible could be afflicted by poor "quality control and safety" protocols that "paying passengers would not be aware of," according to a 2018 lawsuit filed by David Lochridge, the former director of marine operations at OceanGate.

Lochridge alleged he was wrongfully terminated after he brought forth concerns about the company's "refusal" to conduct critical testing on the submersible's hull.

Rush's statements on safety, as well as the former employee's lawsuit could prove legally dangerous to OceanGate if the current search and rescue mission becomes a search and recovery effort, Custodio said.

"The waiver could be challenged if it can be found that OceanGate was negligent in the way it was being designed or operated, and that caused the submersible to be lost," he added.

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