News from 1914: TITANIC'S OWNERS MAY LIMIT CLAIMS

Mark Baber

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Dec 29, 2000
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The Sun, New York, 26 May 1914
Original article digitized by the New York Public Library
Retrieved from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America web site,
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages/


TITANIC'S OWNERS MAY LIMIT CLAIMS
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Supreme Court Overrules Judge Holt, and $91,000 [sic] May Mark Liability
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NEGLIGENCE IN QUESTION
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If Proved Against Company It Will Be Liable for Unlimited Damages

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WASHINGTON, May 25---The Supreme Court in an opinion to-day by Justice
Holmes upheld the right of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, owner of
the ill fated Titanic, to limit Its liability on account of that disaster to
an amount equal to the value of its salvage and the amount received for
carrying passengers and freight. This would make its total liabilities only
about $91.000. Justice McKenna dissented.

The opinion affects only such suits as were brought in the United States
against the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, which is a British
corporation. Claimants in the United States will be able to sue in Great
Britain, but the laws there impose greater burdens on the claimants in the
matter of proving negligence. The total claims on account of the Titanic are
said to be more than $30.000.000. The case turned to-day on a certificate
from the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
certifying three questions to the Supreme Court on which an answer was
requested. The first question was:

"A. Whether in case the [sic; should be "in the case of a] disaster upon the
high seas where (1) only a single vessel of British nationality is concerned
and there are claimants of many different nationalities; and where (2) there
Is nothing before the court to show what If any is the law of the foreign
country to which the vessel belongs touching the owner's liability for such
disaster such owner can maintain a proceeding under section 4283 to 4285
inclusive, Revised Statutes, and the fifty-fourth and fifty-sixth Rule in
Admiralty.

The Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative.

This was the second question:

"B. Whether if in such case it appears that the law of the foreign country
to which the vessel belongs makes provision for the limitation of the vessel
owner's liability upon terms and conditions different from those prescribed
In the statutes of this country the owner of such foreign vessel can
maintain a proceeding in the courts of the United States under said statutes
and rules."

The Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative.

This was the third question:

"C. Will the courts of the United States States [sic] in such proceedings
enforce the law of the United States or of the foreign country in respect to
the amount of such owner's liability?"

To this question the Supreme Court replied merely: "The law of the United
States."

Without filing any dissenting opinion Justice McKenna announced the view,
based on the Scotland case decided by the Supreme Court, that the law of
Great Britain should be enforced in fixing the amount of the owner's
liability.
__________________________
MAIN POINT UNDECIDED
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Question of Negligence Now to Be Presented in Court
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George Whitefield Betts, Jr., of Hunt, Hill & Betts, 165 Broadway, who
represent more than a hundred Titanic claimants here and in England, said
yesterday: "This decision does not touch the question of the company's
negligence and the privity of its officials in that negligence. In England
the courts have held that the danger to the Titanic was neither unforeseen
nor unforeseeable and that the practice did not justify a vessel in
maintaining her course and speed when the warnings of danger ahead were such
as the Titanic received.

"These claims will now be tried out in the United States District Court and
we will contend that not only was there negligence in the navigation of the
vessel, as the English courts have held, but we will also maintain that J.
Bruce Ismay, the executive head of the company, knew of the dangers, was
privy to them and in spite of that permitted the vessel to continue her
course and speed. If we can show this to the satisfaction of the court we
will be entitled to collect damages as proved without limitation."

A. L. Brougham, attorney for about 200 of the claimants, said:

"The claimants will still contend that even under the American law the
steamship company is not entitled to the limitation because the accident was
due largely to the fault of the steamship company Itself, both in the
designing and equipment of the ship, especially in the failure to furnish
sufficient lifeboats."

There were nearly 500 claims, aggregating about $14,000,000, filed against
the steamship company in this country.
_________________________
LINE'S LAWYERS EXPLAIN
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No Liability If There Was No Negligence, They Say
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Burlingham, Montgomery & Beecher of 27 William street, attorneys for the
White Star Line, issued a statement last night in which they said:

"The petition for limitation filed by the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company,
Limited (White Star Line), alleged that the loss of the Titanic was due to
inevitable accident, and that It occurred without the privity or knowledge
of the line. Several of the claimants excepted to this petition and Judge
George C. Holt sustained their exceptions and dismissed the petition on the
ground that a British vessel which collides with an iceberg on the high seas
is not entitled to the benefit of the American statute, but must seek
limitation under the British act, which fixes the liability of a shipowner
in cases where personal injuries or loss of life have occurred at £15 a ton.
From this decision the line appealed to the United States Circuit Court of
Appeals, which did not pass on the questions, but certified them to the
Supreme Court.

"The result of the decision is that the White Star Line may now continue its
limitation proceeding under and in accordance with the provisions of the
United States statutes. In that proceeding two questions will now be tried
and determined in the United States court:

"1. Whether the accident was due to negligence.

"2. If there was negligence, whether the company itself was at fault as well
as the ship's officers.

"If there was no negligence, of course there is no liability in any amount.
If the negligence was that of the ship's officers alone the company's
liability is limited to about $97,000 [sic] under the American statute. If
the company was also at fault its liability is unlimited.

"The faults charged against the company itself relate to the construction
and equipment of the vessel. The Titanic was built at Belfast by Harland &
Wolf, Limited, without limit of expense, and represented the highest state
of the art of shipbuilding in 1912. In equipment of lifeboats and other life
saving apparatus the builders had exceeded the requirements of British law,
which our own statutes declare to be sufficient."

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A

Andrew Williams

Guest
A bit late coming Mark as I only do the round's by conducting a fly-past visit sometimes.

I just wonder after reading the above if they were seriously urge to apply the 4% Deduction like they did with the British widows who were claiming compensation. To be perfectly honestly, the Widows are really the losers here.

Have you ever come across a case that was published in the U.S. press?? Be interested to know.

Happy New Year

A.W.