This week marks the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. We wrote about some of the insurance issues a couple of years ago, when the disaster's centennial prompted so much coverage. (See our April 2012, archive.) An auction house in England announced recently that it will be selling the original insurance claim form for Titanic at auction later in April. They expect to get about $20,000 for it.
The document is a masterful understatement of the situation. Charles Lightoller, the second officer and, if we remember correctly, the most senior officer to survive, filled out the form. It was his job to convince the insurance company to pay, and that meant there could be no hint of blame cast on any crew member or the White Star Line itself.
He characterized the iceberg as a "growler," or a "small low-lying iceberg." He said the ship made a "slight jar with a grinding sound" when it hit, and he described the first officer's attempt to avoid the growler.
Lightoller further described the evacuation of the ship. What we know from history and, of course, the movies presents a much different scene from the form's. All hands were called to duty, according to the claim, and they filled the lifeboats with women and children. "At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank," Lightoller said, concluding with a list of crewmembers that were lost.
All in a day's work.
His motivation is strongly hinted at in one part of the claim. He and the ship's surviving officers signed a statement asserting that "any loss, damage or injury which has arisen … in any way or manner whatever, is solely owing to the accidents and difficulties herein set forth and declared." If that weren't clear enough, the provision added that any loss, damage or injury was "not [owing] to any negligence, want of skill, vigilance or exertion on the part of the deponents or any of the officers or men" of the Titanic.
Was the claim denied? We'll answer the question in our next post.
Source: Business Insurance, "Titanic claim form minimized size of iceberg to insurers," April 9, 2014