Law and the Titanic Tragedy

One hundred years ago today, the RMS Titanic sank, tragically costing more than 1,500 people their lives.

In Custodia Legis blog has a very interesting post about this disaster from a legal perspective, specifically the then applicable laws related to lifeboats–with which the Titanic was in compliance.  Under UK shipping laws at the time, lifeboat capacity was based on ship tonnage rather than numbers of passengers.  According to a Senate Report issued after 18 days of hearings, the Titanic exceeded those requirements by having a lifeboat capacity of 1,176.  The ship had more than 2,200 passengers and crew, but fewer than a quarter of that number survived.

There were lawsuits for personal injury, wrongful death, and property damage. Claims against the ship’s owner in a U.S. courts, however, were severely limited under U.S. Admiralty Law. See Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. v. Mellor, 233 U.S. 712 (1913). Ultimately, cases filed in both the United States and England were resolved by a consolidated settlement. See Robert D. Peltz, The Titanic’s Legacy:  The History and Legal Developments Following the World’s Most Famous Maritime Disaster, 12 U.S.F. Mar. L.J. 45 (1999). 

After Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic wreckage, Congress passed the R.M.S. Titanic Memorial Act of 1986 designating the site “an international maritime memorial to the men,women, and children who perished aboard her.”

Some of the the resources available to GMUSL readers to learn more include:

In addition, the International Maritime Organization website has information on the history of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) adopted in response to Titanic tragedy.