OceanGate Expeditions could face a federal probe for criminal liability if the five-person crew of its missing Titan submersible is not found alive, a legal expert said.
“The question of whether OceanGate could face criminal liability has yet to be answered, but some government or perhaps a combination of governments will definitely investigate this tragedy,” criminal defense attorney Joshua Ritter told the Daily Mail.
Ritter explained that the waiver signed by eager passengers who shelled out up to $250,000 to make the risky trip to the wreck of the Titanic did not “totally protect” the company from liability, despite allegedly mentioning the possibility of “death” three times.
“People can give consent to participate in dangerous activities, but that doesn’t mean whoever is in charge is totally protected from criminal liability,” he told the outlet.
“If an investigation reveals the participants were misled about the risks or pressured to agree to activities they would normally avoid, then it can lead to criminal charges.
“For the company to use a video game controller to steer this submarine, that’s the kind of thing that makes this ripe for an investigation.”
Ritter compared the Titan sub tragedy to a 2009 case in which three people died in a sweat lodge in Arizona.
Although the individuals entered the lodge willingly, he said, the entrepreneur who ran the site was convicted of negligent homicide.
Although the vessel is missing in international waters, Ritter added, investigation is most likely to take place in the US, because OceanGate is based in Washington state.
Proceedings could be complicated, however, by the fact that OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, 61, is among the missing.