Five years ago yesterday, George Smith IV (below with his dad, George Smith III) disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship between Greece and Turkey. This was a terrible, terrible night, which filled the public's imagination with speculation about what happened, night after night on the cable news programs.
Behind the news, families grieved with hearts filled with heartbreak and sorrow.
Mr. Smith's newly-wed bride, Jennifer Hagel, retained me to represent the interests of George's estate against Royal Caribbean. I was tasked with trying to find out what happened and to hold those responsible for George's death accountable.
I did the best I could, between a recalcitrant corporate-felon-of-a-cruise-line and families engulfed in grief.
We reached an agreement that Royal Caribbean would pay $1,060,000 and reveal all of its investigation materials regarding George's death.
This was the best result which could be obtained. There is no doubt abut this, especially after 5 years of retrospection.
There existed many obstacles in this case. There is an international treaty which exists called the Athens Convention which, if found applicable, would limit the cruise liability's liability to only around $70,000. Not to mention the wicked "Death On The High Seas Act" which precludes damages other than financial compensation. $1,060,000 and a disclosure of information by the cruise line was a great resolution, notwithstanding such a terrible loss of a young man's life.
But the Smith family (photo below right) has fought at every turn, to appeal the probate court decision in their own home town affirming the decision in Jennifer's favor.
Today, the news is filled with the deaths of young men killed on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig, whose destroyed lives have all been calculated, by the calculus of wrongful death, to be less than $1,000,000 because of the soulless DOHSA law. And these men were working when their lives were taken, with no hint that they were negligent for drinking or poor judgment or any fault of their own. They were blown up by the malfeasance of the rig owner and operators.
Yesterday, the Connecticut Post published a story about George's disappearance and the issues left unresolved following his death.
You can read about the dreams of young George taking over his father's Cos Cob Liquor Store, juxtaposed with George's alleged abuse of alcohol and misuse of prescription drugs during the ill fated cruise.
This is a sad story. There is no winner. The families are estranged. The cruise line, Royal Caribbean, cares not a whit. Can the Smith family move on from this debacle?
Over the last five years, my wife and I have celebrated 10 birthdays of our two sons who are now 13 and 15 years old. My boys have grown from third and fifth grade kids to young men entering eighth and tenth grade, over the course of the Smith familiy's nightmare.
There is not a day that goes by that I forget how blessed I am to have my boys alive and healthy, and my family intact.
Photographs Greenwich Time