Echo Daily Newsletter 9

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The Titanic Disaster: Verdict


The Times,  26th June 1913

Law Report: Ryan v Oceanic Steam Navigation Company

The hearing of this case was continued.

The action was brought by Thomas Ryan to recover damages for the death of his son, Patrick Ryan, who was drowned in the Titanic disaster owing, as the plaintiff alleged, to the negligence of the defendants’ servants in the navigation of the ship.

The defendants denied negligence, and, in the alternative, pleaded that Patrick Ryan was carried as a passenger under a contract by the terms of which they were not liable for damage resulting from the negligence of their servants.

The Summing Up

Mr Justice Bailhache in summing up the case said that the jury had to decide whether the sinking of the Titanic was or was not due to negligence in her navigation.

He was going to ask them three questions: Whether the navigation of the ship was negligent (a) in respect of the look-out, (b) in respect of the speed, or both; and (c) whether a certain Marconi message from the Mesaba did or did not reach one of the responsible officers of the ship.

So far as what happened after the collision took place, they were not troubled in that case. Their concern was the history of the navigation of the Titanic before the incident, and in, particular, her navigation for two hours before 11.40 pm on April 14.

They had had called before them a considerable number of highly experienced navigators.

What was the duty of a jury which did not know much about navigation, and what ought to be their attitude of mind in the face of a body of expert evidence of that kind?

The verdict was to be their verdict, and it was necessary to pay great attention to the evidence of these expert navigators, but not by any means to surrender their judgment to them.

There was another observation he wished to address to them. It was very difficult in such a case to distinguish between why they knew now and what was known to the navigators of the ship at the material time, and it was very important in such a case to avoid being wise after the event.

In conclusion, his Lordship said that the in substance nearly the whole case turned upon the question of the iceberg being black and not white, as was expected, and the jury must consider whether, in the face of the knowledge that there were occasional black bergs to be found which were difficult to see, and the fact that there was a discussion of them during the night, it was negligent to run the Titanic at such a speed that if a black berg was met it could not be avoided.

Captain Smith was a most experienced officer. He did not slow down on this night, and the question was whether he omitted to take a predation which he ought to have taken, with the result that the Titanic had crashed into this iceberg.

They must bear in mind that an experienced body of navigators of the highest class had said that in similar circumstances they would have acted in the same way as Captain Smith, while against that Captain Cannons had told them that if he had known there was ice in his course he would have slowed down.

The Verdict

The jury retired at 3.45, and after an absence of an hour and three-quarters they returned a verdict to the effect that the navigation of the Titanic was not negligent in regard to the look-out, but was so in respect of speed. They also found that there was not sufficient evidence to show whether the Mesaba message was commented in due course to some responsible officer of the Titanic.

The further proceedings were adjourned until tomorrow.

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