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Date Modified: August 25, 2023

Safety concerns over amphibious duck boats and missing submersible “submarines” are just a few of the issues our personal injury lawyers deal with year in and year out. Were you or someone you love tipped over or seriously injured or drowned at sea in the Atlantic Ocean, off Catalina Island’s Avalon, or some other commercial sub-industry hub? Watching the news, you’d think maritime law claims won’t be possible in these cases due to liability waivers and releases. What you may not know is that they are not always ironclad defenses.

About Award-Winning Lawyer Ehline

I am California and Texas personal injury attorney, Michael Ehline. I have over a decade of experience handling Passenger Vessel Safety Act cases and similar claims. I am considered a distinguished professor leading the Law Office Study Program students. My peers recognize me as one of the foremost legal experts in regulatory body knowledge, including an in-depth understanding of Manned Underwater Vehicles Committee Data obtained from the Marine Technology Society on catastrophic implosion cases.

Suppose crew or passengers in a submersible reach extreme depths and got hurt or died. In that case, victims, families, and others may have rights to seek and obtain compensation under a combination of contract, admiralty, and negligence laws. Experimental design or not, you still have rights in this largely unregulated tourism industry.

About Ehline Law’s Winning Team

Ehline Law Firm remains among the industry leaders in cruise vessel safety and recognizes the deadly combination of a shore excursion coupled with a submarine ride. Below I will cover deep-sea expeditions, liability waiver issues, and other issues affecting passenger aboard underwater vessels. I will also discuss pitfalls and methods of obtaining financial compensation in cases of serious injuries or wrongful death claims of survivors under maritime, admiralty, and contract law. In the end, I will discuss some history, problems with lack of liability insurance, how to hire the best personal injury attorney, and how to contact one. Let’s go!

Many of us are still learning more from the US Coast Guard about the so-called “Titanic Sub” and the implosion deaths of the Washington-based company CEO Stockton Rush, as well as Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding, and Paul-Henri Nargeolet. Court documents show in that the submersible reached extreme depths. Records show that there may have been safety issues that could invalidate waiver forms signed by the victims in that implosion about 900 miles off Cape Cod. As we mourn with these families, holding charter companies and the tourism industry accountable is more important than ever when misled passengers aboard these boats suffer physical injury or die! News stories are already blaming Rush, the skipper, for placing rapid innovation above real-world testing in his Titan submersible operations.

What is the difference Between a Submersible and a Submarine?

The terms “submersible” and “submarine” are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between the two:

Design and Purpose:

  • Submarine: A submarine is a self-propelled vessel designed to operate underwater. It is typically larger, more complex, and capable of long-range missions. Submarines are often used for military purposes, research, or transportation of submariners, or special operations teams, including US Navy Seal and USMC Recon and Raider teams.
  • Submersible: A smaller, typically unmanned, or small crew vessel that can operate underwater but is not designed for extended or deep-sea missions. Submersibles are often used for scientific exploration, underwater filming, or recreational purposes like viewing pirate wrecks, sunken pleasure craft, etc. For example, the ill-fated OceanGate Expeditions vessel, the 22-foot submersible Titan, was considered a sort of experimental vessel with limited crew capacity. It was designed to be capable of tethered operations. Examples of an unmanned submersible would include the Victor 6000 deep diving robot used to help the French research vessel, L’Atalante, search for the Titan.

Crew Capacity

  • Submarines are capable of carrying a significant number of crew members, ranging from tens to hundreds, depending on their size and purpose. They are equipped with facilities to accommodate and support the crew during long missions. For example, they are typically not economical for trips to view the Titanic wreckage. In contrast, with five passengers cramped aboard with the chief executive, the Titanic submersible class was far more economical for Marine operations at the famous shipwreck site.
  • Submersibles are usually designed for a limited number of occupants or none at all. They may be remotely operated or designed for specific tasks that do not require human presence.

Depth and Range

  • Submarines are built to withstand high pressures and operate at significant depths in the ocean, ranging from a few hundred feet to several thousand feet. Their sophisticated systems ensure crew safety and survival during extended underwater operations.
  • Submersibles are generally limited in terms of depth and range. They are often used for shallower dives, typically up to a few hundred feet, and are not designed for prolonged missions or extreme depths.

In summary, a submarine will be a larger, self-propelled vessel capable of extended underwater operations with a larger crew of dedicated submariners. At the same time, a submersible is a smaller, often unmanned craft used for specific tasks or limited exploration at shallower depths.

Don’t Confuse the Atlantic Ocean With a Submarine Effect Car Accident?

The term “submarine effect” is commonly used in the context of car accidents involving certain vehicle designs and occupant safety. It refers to a specific scenario where the seat occupant can slide forward and underneath the seat belt during a collision, resulting in potentially severe injuries. This phenomenon is more prevalent in vehicles with inadequate seat designs or improperly positioned seat belts.

Sub Cockpit

In a car accident, the forces involved can cause the vehicle to abruptly decelerate or change direction. When this happens, the seat occupant’s body may continue moving forward due to inertia, potentially causing them to slide underneath the seat belt. This can result in a higher risk of injuries to the lower body, including the abdomen, pelvis, and legs, and has nothing to do with underwater vessels!

Submarine Rescue and Escape Tips

In the event of a submarine accident, the survival of trapped crew members hinges on two options:

  1. Awaiting rescue or
  2. Attempting escape. The U.S. Navy strongly supports the prioritization of rescue operations over escape attempts. This preference is based on several factors that prioritize the safety and well-being of the crew members involved.

Safety Considerations

The U.S. Navy advocates for rescue operations primarily because they are inherently safer than escape methods. Escape attempts expose survivors to various hazardous conditions, including cold water and immense pressure. Moreover, the potential for mistakes is higher when attempting escape, further jeopardizing the lives of the trapped crew members.

Operational Depth

Another critical aspect is the operational depth at which rescue operations and escape gear can effectively function. Rescue vehicles have the capability to operate at much greater depths, reaching up to 2,000 feet. In contrast, escape gear is designed for shallow water scenarios, typically limited to 600 feet or less. This disparity in operational depth highlights the importance of rescue operations for incidents that occur at greater depths.

Onsite Resources

Rescue operations offer significant advantages by providing onsite resources to aid trapped crew members. One such resource is the presence of a decompression chamber, which plays a vital role in treating survivors. This chamber assists in the gradual adjustment of pressure, reducing the risk of decompression sickness and other related health complications.

Considering the safety benefits, operational depth capabilities, and availability of onsite resources, the U.S. Navy promotes rescue operations as the preferred course of action for saving submariners in distress. By prioritizing rescue over escape, the Navy and US Coast Guard aim to minimize risks and maximize the chances of successful rescues, ultimately safeguarding the lives of crew members involved in submarine accidents.

What is an implosion of a submersible craft?

An implosion of a submersible craft refers to the craft’s catastrophic collapse or structural failure due to the external pressure exerted by the surrounding water at great depths. Sometimes this happens, and no rescue will be possible unless the crew is left inside a compartmentalized, watertight section of the boat that withstands the pressure. (or they manage to escape the situation). When a submersible descends to significant depths in the ocean, the pressure from the water increases exponentially. If the submersible is not designed to withstand such extreme pressures or if there is a flaw or compromise in its structure, it can result in the collapse of the craft, leading to an implosion.

The implosion occurs when the external pressure exceeds the internal pressure of the submersible, causing the structure to collapse inward. This sudden collapse can cause severe damage to the craft, compromising its integrity and potentially leading to the loss of life of the occupants inside.

To prevent implosions, submersible crafts intended for deep-sea exploration are built with reinforced structures and materials capable of withstanding the immense pressures at great depths. Thorough engineering and testing are conducted to ensure the integrity of the craft, including simulations and real-world trials under extreme conditions.

Implosions of submersible crafts, like the Titan, are rare but can have catastrophic consequences. They underscore the critical importance of designing and constructing submersibles to withstand the immense pressures of deep-sea environments to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers on board.

Various Submarines Lost in Accidents and Perils in Coast Guard/Maritime History

  • F 4 (SS-23) 25 Mar 15: 21 died. Sunk after a battery explosion off Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • F 1 (SS-20) 16 Dec 17: 19 died. Sunk after collision with USS F 3 (SS-22) off San Diego, California.
  • G 2 (SS-27) 30 Jul 19: 3 died. Foundered and sunk in Long Island Sound.
  • H 1 (SS-28) 12 Mar 20: 4 died. Foundered and sunk off Santa Margarita Island, California.
  • O 5 (SS-66) 20 Oct 23: 3 died. Rammed and sunk by United Fruit steamer Abangarez in Limon Bay, Canal Zone.
  • S 51 (SS-162) 25 Sep 25: 33 died. Sunk after collision with the steamer City of Rome off Block Island, Rhode Island.
  • Squalus (SS-192) 23 May 39: 26 died. Foundered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
  • O-9 (SS-70) 20 Jun 41: 33 died. Foundered during deep submergence tests off New London, Connecticut.
  • S-26 (SS-131) 24 Jan 42: 46 died. Sunk after collision with USS PC-460 in the Gulf of Panama.
  • R-12 (SS-89) 12 Jun 43: 42 died. Foundered after the battery flooded while off Key West, Florida.
  • Tullibee (SS-284) 26 Mar 44:  79 died. Accidentally sunk by a circular run of its own torpedo off Palau Islands.
  • S-28 (SS-133) 4 Jun 44: 49 died. Lost during ASW exercises off the Hawaiian Islands.
  • Seawolf (SS-197) 3 Oct 44: 100 died. Accidentally sunk by naval aircraft from USS Midway (CVE-63) and USS Richard M. Rowell (DE-403) off Morotai Island.
  • Darter (SS-227) 24 Oct 44: 0 died. Ran aground on Bombay Shoal, Palawan Passage; later scuttled by USS Nautilus (SS-168) and USS Dace (SS-247).
  • Tang (SS-306), 24 Oct 44:  78 died. 9 POWs survived. Accidentally sunk by a circular run of its own torpedo in Formosa Strait.
  • Cochino (SS-345) 26 Aug 49: 1 died. Foundered after a battery explosion during a severe storm off northern Norway.
  • Thresher (SSN-593) 10 Apr 63: 129 died. Sank after a possible piping failure during deep submergence tests off the New England coast.
  • Scorpion (SSN-589) 27 May 68: 99 died. Loss is not ascertainable; most probable inadvertent activation of the battery of the torpedo resulting in a possible “hot run” torpedo detonation off the Azores.

These are just some of the famous sinkings and implosions that have occurred. We assume there are others protected as secret or confidential information, as they carry passengers on a secret mission, or a waiver signed away rights for family members to say anything for sue for emotional trauma, etc. Court records and court filings are sparse in these types of cases, and OceanGate declined to comment on our repeated requests when this Titan classed catastrophe took place. Do you think the survivors will sue Oceangate Expeditions? We know one person who probably will not, David Concannon.

He canceled his trip last minute, stating:

“As I posted last week, I was supposed to be on this expedition and, indeed, on this dive, but I had to cancel to attend to another urgent client matter.”

Typical Injuries From Unaddressed Safety Concerns in a Submersible Boat Accident?

In a submersible boat accident, the injuries suffered can vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident.

Here are some typical injuries that individuals may sustain in a submersible boat accident:

  1. Traumatic injuries: These can include fractures, broken bones, head injuries, spinal cord injuries, internal injuries, and severe lacerations. The impact of the accident, such as collisions or sudden jolts, can result in these types of injuries. The court filing would generally describe these and not go into specifics.
  2. Drowning or near-drowning: Submersible accidents may involve the submersible taking on water or sinking, submerging individuals underwater. Oxygen deprivation from near-drowning or actual drowning can cause brain damage, respiratory issues, and other complications. Here, the deaths aboard the carbon fiber craft were likely caused by implosion and not drowning.
  3. Barotrauma: Rapid changes in pressure, such as during ascent or descent, can cause barotrauma. This includes injuries to the ears, sinuses, and lungs due to the unequal pressure between the inside of the body and the external environment. Barotrauma can result in pain, hearing loss, sinus problems, and lung injuries.
  4. Hypothermia: Hypothermia can occur if the submersible is in cold waters or if individuals are exposed to water for an extended period. Hypothermia is a dangerous condition where the body’s core temperature drops too low, leading to symptoms such as shivering, confusion, loss of coordination, and, in severe cases, organ failure. Imagine being trapped on the sea floor in a cold submersible near the Titanic wreck. At least in this case, the deaths of these five people in international waters appear sudden and painless.
  5. Psychological trauma: Submersible accidents can be highly traumatic experiences, leading to psychological injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event underwater can have long-lasting effects on a person’s mental well-being.

It’s important to note that the severity and extent of injuries can vary widely based on factors such as the cause of the accident, the duration of the incident, the depth of submersion, and the response time for rescue and medical assistance. Immediate medical attention is crucial in submersible accidents to assess and treat injuries promptly, increase the chances of survival, and minimize long-term complications.

Who Can I Sue for Injuries or Death in a Private, Commercial Submarine Accident?

In the event of injuries or death in a private, commercial submarine accident, multiple parties may be liable depending on the specific circumstances of the incident.

Here are some parties that could potentially be sued:

  1. Submarine Operator: The operator or owner of the submarine may be held responsible for the accident if it can be shown that their negligence, such as inadequate maintenance, failure to train the crew properly, or disregard for safety protocols, contributed to the incident.
  2. Submarine Manufacturer: If the accident occurred due to a defect in the design or manufacturing of the submarine, the manufacturer could be held liable for the injuries or death caused by the defect. This could include issues with the submarine’s structural integrity, approved or certified mechanical systems, or safety features for above and below-surface use.
  3. Submarine Charter Company: If the accident occurred during a chartered submarine tour or expedition, the company that organized or facilitated the charter could be held liable. This could include claims of negligence in selecting a safe submarine, providing adequate safety equipment, or properly training the crew.
  4. Crew Members: If the accident resulted from the actions or negligence of specific crew members, such as the captain or other personnel responsible for operating the submarine, they could potentially be held individually liable for their actions.
  5. Maintenance or Inspection Companies: If the accident can be traced back to the failure of maintenance or inspection companies to identify and address safety issues with the submarine properly, they may also be held liable for their negligence.

It’s important to consult with a maritime attorney who specializes in submarine accidents to evaluate the specific circumstances of the incident and determine the potential parties that can be held legally responsible. They can provide guidance on the applicable laws and help you navigate the legal process to seek compensation for injuries or death resulting from the submarine accident.

What Types of Damages Can Victims Recover in a Submersible Accident?

In a submersible accident, victims may be entitled to recover various types of damages depending on the circumstances and applicable laws. If it involved an experimental vessel that has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body, the court would want to know if the missing or dead passengers knew the consequences. This evidence could reduce or disallow damages for those who went missing altogether.

Some common types of damages that victims or an employee can potentially recover in a submersible accident include:

Medical Expenses

Victims may be able to recover compensation for past, current, and future medical expenses resulting from injuries sustained in the accident. Compensation can include costs associated with hospitalization, surgeries, medication, rehabilitation, therapy, and other necessary medical treatments. Taking a photo history of injuries is a great way to document for tracking by a jury later.

Lost Wages

Suppose the accident causes victims to miss work or impairs their ability to earn income in the future. In that case, they may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and loss of earning capacity. This can include both the income they have already lost, and the potential income they would have earned had the accident not occurred. This would include lost contracts or the ability to pursue or complete contracts.

Pain and Suffering

Victims can seek monetary damages for the physical and emotional pain, suffering, and anguish they experienced as a result of the submersible accident. Damages might be for immediate pain and long-term consequences of the injuries, including any physical disabilities, disfigurement, or the possibility of emotional trauma.

Property Damage

If personal belongings or property were damaged or lost in the accident, victims may be able to recover the cost of repairing or replacing those items. Good luck locating personal property lost at sea in the North Atlantic, among other vessels and focused sea traffic.

Wrongful Death Damages

In cases where the submersible accident results in the death of a victim, their surviving family members may be able to pursue a wrongful death or negligent survival action claim. Wrongful death damages can include funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, and other damages suffered by the missing or deceased person’s loved ones.

It’s important to note that the specific damages available and the process of seeking compensation can vary depending on the jurisdiction, applicable laws, and the nature of the submersible accident. Consulting with an experienced attorney who specializes in maritime or personal injury law can help victims understand their rights and pursue the appropriate damages in their case using all these regulations.

Problems With Collecting

It is hard to believe that any insurer, even Lloyd’s of London, would cover a private submersible risk. But if so, the families could easily collect their judgment or settlement. If not, the interested parties could win millions while the defendants skip town and declare bankruptcy. Only the savviest and most sophisticated personal injury lawyers understand the minimum techniques required to present and case and ALSO collect the claimed losses. We are prepared to do a detailed investigation on a no-recovery no, fee basis, meeting your needs with no upfront costs. We advance all costs and are ready to investigate the dangers that led to needless suffering and dying as you struggle to heal emotionally and financially from the loss of a breadwinner. Once we explore and form an attorney-client relationship, we will work to achieve a collectible and enforceable settlement 24/7.

How to Hire the Best Submersible Accident Lawyer

To hire the best submarine accident attorney in California, you can follow these steps:

  1. Research and Identify Attorneys: Start by conducting thorough research to identify attorneys in California who specialize in maritime or personal injury law, particularly those with experience in handling submarine accident cases. Look for attorneys with a strong success track record and positive client reviews.
  2. Evaluate Experience and Expertise: Review the attorneys’ websites, online profiles, and any available publications to assess their experience and expertise in submarine accident cases. Look for attorneys who have handled similar cases in the past and have a deep understanding of maritime laws and regulations. If the case is headed to the federal District Court, make sure they know the Federal Rules.
  3. Schedule Consultations: Narrow down your list of potential attorneys and schedule initial consultations with them. Many attorneys offer free or low-cost consultations to discuss your case and assess whether they fit your needs. Take advantage of these consultations to ask relevant questions about their experience, approach to handling cases, and potential strategies for your situation.
  4. Assess Communication and Compatibility: During the consultations, pay attention to the attorney’s communication style and how well you can communicate with them. A good attorney should be attentive, responsive, and able to explain complex legal concepts in a way that you can understand. It’s important to find an attorney with whom you feel comfortable working and who will prioritize your interests.
  5. Consider Reputation and Track Record: Research the reputation of the attorneys you are considering. Look for reviews, testimonials, or any disciplinary actions that may have been taken against them. Additionally, consider their track record of success in obtaining favorable settlements or verdicts for their clients in submarine hull accident cases.
  6. Evaluate Fees and Payment Structure: Discuss the attorney’s fee structure during the initial consultation. Some attorneys may work on a contingency basis, where they only receive a payment if they win your case, while others may charge an hourly rate or a flat fee. Understand the fee structure and any additional costs involved before making a decision.
  7. Trust Your Instincts: Ultimately, trust your instincts, friends, and other witnesses when choosing an attorney. Select someone who instills confidence in their abilities, demonstrates a genuine interest in your case, and is committed to obtaining your best possible outcome. Don’t just go to Facebook and think an attorney interview there will get the results you need for your voyage. You will be more stressed without the right submersible accident attorneys.

By following these steps provided by our California submersible boat accident-injury lawyers, and conducting thorough research, you can increase your chances of hiring the best advocate.

Contact a Submersible Watercraft Accident Attorney At Ehline Law Firm

Are you in need of legal representation after a submersible watercraft accident? Look no further than Ehline Law Firm! Our experienced team of attorneys specializes in handling submersible watercraft accidents and can provide you with the expert guidance and support you need. With a proven track record of success, our dedicated attorneys will fight tirelessly to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses.

Contact a submersible watercraft accident attorney at Ehline Law Firm today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards securing the justice and financial recovery you are entitled to. We will immediately respond and answer even the must mundane questions to help you or any familiy members understand your rights as paying passengers and relatives. All these outside entity regulations and accepted standards are easy to deal with, as we are experts. Our very submarine accident attorney in California represents your case effectively. Contact us today by calling (833) LETS-SUE.

Citations:

Cressman, Robert J. The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1959-89.

Various Ships’ History Branch files, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_submarine_and_submersible_incidents_since_2000
https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/story/2022-02-06/cold-war-era-soviet-sub-towed-from-san-diego-bound-for-mexico-scrap-yard
Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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Michael Ehline

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We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.
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