SS Edmund Fitzgerald - Legal Settlement

Legal Settlement

Under maritime law, ships fall under the jurisdiction of the admiralty courts of their flag country. As Fitzgerald was sailing under the U.S. flag, even though she sank in foreign (Canadian) waters, she was subject to U.S. admiralty law. With a value of $24 million, the Fitzgerald's financial loss was the greatest in Great Lakes sailing history. In addition to the crew, 26,116 long tons (29,250 short tons; 26,535 t) of taconite sank along with the vessel. Two widows of crewmen filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Fitzgerald's owners Northwestern Mutual and operators Oglebay Norton Corporation one week after she sank. An additional $2.1 million lawsuit was later filed. Oglebay Norton subsequently filed a petition in the U.S. District Court seeking to "limit their liability to $817,920 in connection with other suits filed by families of crew members." The company paid compensation to surviving families about 12 months in advance of official findings of the probable cause and on condition of imposed confidentiality agreements. Robert Hemming, a reporter and newspaper editor, reasoned in his book about the Fitzgerald that the USCG's conclusions "were benign in placing blame on either the company or the captain ... saved the Oglebay Norton from very expensive lawsuits by the families of the lost crew."

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