The Titanic – Where were the Trial Lawyers?

How it was in the good old days – before “greedy trial lawyers” ruined America (reprinted from www.CorpReform.com)

The problem with trial lawyers is that they think they have the right to tell business owners how best to run their businesses.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, trial lawyers point the finger of blame whenever an unfortunate business makes a prudent, but incorrect decision.

“Greedy trial lawyers” meddle in virtually every industry and drive up the prices of all our products and services.  Every business decision made has to take into consideration the predatory litigation lobby, and not what’s best for the business.  No wonder so many businesses are driven into bankruptcy!

The situation is only as bad as it is because activist judges and politicians in the wallet of the trial bar extended tort doctrines to dubious causes of action.  It didn’t used to be this way.  There once was a time when corporations were free to run their businesses as they saw fit, and when entrepreneurs weren’t held hostage by trial lawyers. 

If only we had meaningful tort reform, we could return to a time of fairness and efficiency in commerce.  A time perhaps best exemplified by the manner in which White Star Lines handled the tragic loss of the Titanic.  Thanks to a common-sense attitude towards compensating the victims, the management of White Star saved the company from ruin.  Were an identical tragedy to occur today, the company would surely be devoured by ravenous trial lawyers and greedy family members unwilling to accept reasonable compensation.

Let’s take a trip back to the good old days and see how White Star Lines handled the crisis:

In 2002, new evidence surfaced, revealing that the Titanic’s owners expected, and in fact demanded fees for the return of bodies.White Star was the Enron of its day; a succession of callous acts without end. Through letters that still survive, historians have long known that Ismay’s line notified the widows of the Titanic’s bandsmen (notwithstanding the fact that their husbands did much to prevent panic on the port side by playing cheery ragtime music) that 75% of the money owed them was being withheld, based on the premise that their husbands had entertained passengers only halfway through one leg of what was to have been a two-way trip. Furthermore, White Star judged that it was only fair to warn the widows that there would be little left over from the remaining 25% because they would have to “settle a bill” for the loss of their husbands’ uniforms.

In February 2002, documentary film-maker Rip Mackenzie sent a dispatch describing a letter demonstrating once and for all time that there was probably no subterranean marsh into which White Star was unwilling to descend.

Written on White Star stationary and dated two weeks after the sinking, the letter was addressed to Sarah Gill of Somerset, England, in reply to her inquiry about the fate of second class passenger John Gill, her childhood sweetheart and husband of two months.

The owners of the Titanic demanded of Sarah a fee of 20 pounds ($1400 in year 2002 dollars), or her husband’s body would “regrettably” have to be buried in Halifax. White Star used this letter as an opportunity to stress that the sinking of the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic was no one’s responsibility . . . as if driving a ship full speed ahead into the night, toward an ice field about which the bridge had been repeatedly warned . . as if . . .

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“The sinking was an unfortunate accident, [for which] we cannot be held responsible. We regret that we do not see our way to bring home the bodies of those recovered free of expense, and in cases where it is desired for this to be done, it can be carried out only if the body was in a fit state to be returned, and upon receiving a deposit of 20 pounds on account of the expenses.”

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Given the precedent of how White Star treated with widows of Wallace Hartley, Jock Hume, and the other bandsmen (whose families found settlement of the “uniform account” doubly difficult after corporate lawyers declared violinists and cellists “not crew, but officially passengers, therefore not covered under the Workmen’s Compensation Act”), the Sarah Gill discovery should bring no sense of surprise. The behavior of J. Bruce Ismay and his legal team at White Star begins to look increasingly analogous to a car thief who manages to get away with billing his victims for the labor of dismantling their cars and selling the parts.

Source: Charles Pellegrino Web Site

Remember White Star Lines the next time some corporate sock puppet tells you we need tort reform.  If it weren’t for “greedy trial lawyers” it’s entirely possible that airlines would bill the families of dead captains for the cost of their uniforms. 

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