I've read the "Merchant Shipping Act of 1894" there is few weeks ago, and found out that at all events, it was impossible for passengers to sue the White Star Line for the accident because according to the « Merchant Shipping Act » of 1894, a company could only be sued if the shipowner — or the company itself — openly intervene upon the navigation, and that intervention leads directly to the sinking and loss of the ship. (Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, p. 211-212 -- If someone wants to read it : http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1894/60/pdfs/ukpga_18940060_en.pdf) It was for that reason that the British Commission investigated closely upon the statement of Mrs Smith (not sure of her name but you know of who I'm talking about) who said she heard a conversation upon the speed of the ship between Ismay and the Captain. If her claim would have been proven through the Commission of Inquiry, then the passengers should have had the right to sue the White Star Line ; Ismay Imrie & Co ; IMM ; and most likely Ismay himself. But there was Lord Mersey to make sure that this doesn't happened and jumped to his chair to prevent the attorneys from asking questions that could lead to that... ;-)
I'm afraid you've got it all wrong. The British inquiry never saw Mrs Smith, or any other passengers, apart from the Duff Gordons and Bruce Ismay.
In the US court, much was made of evidence from Elizabeth Lines, who heard Ismay and Captain Smith discussing the speed of the ship. All this amounted to the fact that both knew the ship was going well and Ismay was pleased with his investment.
In fact, passengers and/or their dependents did sue in British courts and they won. It's a long story, but White Star claimed to be protected by conditions printed on the tickets. They amounted to "You're on your own. If you want to be protected against loss, get travel insurance." The lower court found the tickets were not valid, never have been approved by the Board of Trade. White Star appealed and lost in a higher court.
Getting back to the original topic, the story is a media beat-up.
if you read the whole article, the story did not come directly from Mrs Louch (Lurch). It's from people who were allegedly looking after her after arrival in New York. It's followed by a sensational tale in which a sailor shoots dead a male passenger before throwing his body overboard, all in front of his wife, who escaped in a boat. Gimme a break! Are we expected to believe the wife never said anything? What about other witnesses.
The whole tale belongs with Rigel the dog and the ravings of "Luis Klein".
Thanks for your reply. Your information worth mine for there is no professional Historian from a renowned University who could certified it with a scientific methodology and ascertained that your information or mine are doubtful. You could be right... I could be wrong... BUT I could be right too as you could be wrong. I will try to retrieve the book where I read it and send it to you if I succeed. By the way, "story" is not a proper word to define what you meant when you wrote "where on earth did you get your STORY". It could be received by one as little condescending, but we both know that it is not what you meant. The word "information" seems to me more convenient. Thank you for your view, it is always appreciated.
Thanks for finding the copy of the Merchant Shipping Act. I've saved it for reference.
Now let's see if I can explain the legal situation. What you have seems to be a muddled account that combines things from the British inquiry and the US court.
In Britain, the relevant section of the ACT is 503. This does not prevent anybody suing ship owners. What it does is limit the liability of of owners for losses of life or property in cases where there has been negligence by the owner's servants, without the 'knowledge or privity' of the owners. For instance, if a captain were to steer a dangerous course down a narrow channel in order to save time and fuel, without the knowledge and approval of the owner, then if the ship was wrecked the owner's liability was limited to £15 per Gross Registered Ton in the case of loss of life or injury. For loss of property it was £8 per ton. If a captain did something dangerous because he was ordered to, liability was unlimited. 'Knowledge or privity' was hard to prove. Dangerous instructions were not put in writing. (There's a poem about that, if I can find it).
In the case of Titanic, the ship was so big that White Star's liability was limited to about one million pounds. In the British Court of King's Bench the question of 'knowledge or privity' was never argued. Claimants simply claimed negligent navigation. The jury found that the navigation was negligent, because the speed of the ship was excessive, given the crew's knowledge of ice ahead. White Star tried to avoid paying by citing the conditions printed on the back of the contract tickets. These said that White Star accepted no liability for any kind of mishap. The presiding judge found the conditions were invalid, because the tickets were not in a form approved by the Board of Trade, a required by regulations under the Act. White Star appealed to a higher court, but lost again. An appeal to the Law Lords was considered, but it was dropped.
There seems to be no record of British claims settled out of court after the court cases. They may have been destroyed when White Star and Cunard combined.
In the USA, 'knowledge and privity' was at the heart of the civil claims. This was because US law limited damages to the salvage value of the ship, plus the freight moneys for the voyage. In Titanic's case, this amounted to about $96,000. In the US court, desperate attempts were therefore made to show that liability was unlimited. It was claimed that Bruce Ismay had urged Captain Smith to speed and that he had 'practically been allowed to captain the ship'. Witnesses distorted the truth considerably. In the end, the case was settled by an agreement that saw about a quarter of the damages claimed paid out, with no admission of liability. Claimants undertook to make no further claims.
The civil claims are quite well documented, though some of the US evidence is missing. I have a US document from 1917 in which a judge complains of incomplete records as early as that. Some more material may yet show up. An American friend tells me that US federal documents get stored in odd places, often miles from where they were originally produced.
I persevered and I am rewarded for I finally found out what I was looking for since all this time : the proof that owner of a Line -- like the White Star as instance -- could only be liable if he interfere with the navigation and that leads to an accident. That is not the thing I have had read of which I was talking about up here, but that says almost the same thing : an owner is liable only in 2 cases : first if he is actually the Master of a ship and his acts led to an accident ; secondly if he interfere directly with the navigation -- for instance if Ismay would have actually ordered Captain Smith to run the ship faster. Otherwise the owner cannot be made liable for any loss that might be occasioned by his employees for usually he is standing at a distance from the ship.
Here is the Hansard of March 21, 1900, and you will find the matter in the reply of Sir Albert Rollitt where he explains the liability of owner :