OceanGate Titan Submersible: Passengers or Crew?

The intensive 5-day search for closure with regards to what happened to the Titan submersible has come to an end. On June 22, the US Coast Guard confirmed that the vehicle imploded underwater; today, families and friends are grieving the loss of the 5 lives involved.

The devastating events surrounding the Titan submersible last week raise an interesting legal question: were the individuals aboard the Titan passengers or crew members? While the individuals aboard paid for the experience as passengers, they also performed various duties as crew members. Various news articles refer to the individuals as both passengers and crew members.

Why does this distinction matter? If the individuals aboard the Titan submersible are considered crew members, they (and their families) are afforded rights under the Jones Act. The Jones Act is federal legislation that regulates maritime commerce. One of the provisions of the law gives seamen and their families a right to sue their employers for injuries sustained in the course of their employment.

Alternatively, should the individuals aboard the Titan submersible be considered “passengers” rather than crew members, the Death on the High Seas Act allows family members to seek compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one killed at sea. The wrongful death must have been caused by either negligence or unseaworthiness.

Negligence is considered the failure to behave within a level of care a reasonable person would have exhibited under the same circumstances. Negligence can include requiring seamen to work in hazardous weather or failing to provide appropriate safety equipment.

Unseaworthiness is similar to negligence, except it deals with the vessel. A vessel is considered unseaworthy if it lacks the necessary equipment, maintenance, crew and design needed to operate properly.

Explore the sites below to learn more about the tragic events of the Titan:

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/28/americas/titan-submersible-debris-st-johns/index.html
  2. https://weather.com/en-IN/india/news/news/2023-06-23-titan-submersible-crew-likely-killed-in-catastrophic-implosion-us-coast

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