The sinking of the Titanic has long been the subject of romance novels and history books, but now may find its way into legal works. It has long been suspected that the ship sank due to shoddy material and construction that made it more vulnerable to sinking. Now, experts have focused on the rivets — raising the possibility that this was the largest actionable personal injury case in history.
The report is an indictment of the construction company, Harland and Wolff of Belfast, Northern Ireland, which sought to build the ship in a hurried and perhaps shoddy way. This put pressure on the riveters.
“Under the pressure to get these ships up, they ramped up the riveters, found materials from additional suppliers, and some was not of quality,” said Timothy Foecke, a metallurgist at the U.S. government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology who has been studying the Titanic for a decade.
“The company knowingly purchased weaker rivets, but I think they did it not knowing they would be purchasing something substandard enough that when they hit an iceberg their ship would sink,” said co-author Jennifer Hooper McCarty.
When they tested 48 rivets from the ship, they found that slag concentrations (a byproduct of smelting) were at 9 percent, when they should have been 2 to 3 percent.
Of course, the statute of limitations has run on this one. However, one value of such lawsuits today is that they can often reveal the truth in such disasters through the process of discovery and litigation. It would have made for the largest use of res ipsa loquitur in the history of the world.
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