Reporter's Reference

To Sinking UnfairI refer to your article datelined Chesapeake, Va., (JofC, Jan. 9) concerning settlement of a dispute between the crew of a foreign flag vessel in port in Virginia and the vessel owners. According to your story, the crew's attorney, Jeffrey Breit of Norfolk, Va., said that the vessel was "rusty and could become another Marine Electric." The byline reporter, Carl Cahill, then added a supposedly factual background note, which Mr. Breit told me he did not make, that "the Marine Electric's corroded hatch covers collapsed" in a storm, causing the ship to sink off the coast of Virginia with substantial loss of life.

No one who has studied the facts, including the Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation, the Coast Guard Commandant, the National Transportation Safety Board and even an expert retained by some of the families of the lost seamen, has found that the ship sank because of "corroded hatch covers."

The Coast Guard's board of investigation concluded that the condition of the deck at the bow and a small forward hatch probably led to the sinking. The Commandant, after examing the board's report and the evidence, determined that the actual cause was unknown. The NTSB found that the cause of the sinking was an "undermined structural failure" and the expert for the lost seamen's

families found that it was caused by progressive flooding starting at the bow.

While the press focused on ship's hatch covers for most of the headlines at the time of the joint Coast Guard/NTSB hearings in 1983, responsible journalism requires that current references to the Marine Electric take into account the reported results of the investigations and not casually reply on outdated newspaper morgue material.

Thomas L. Rohrer Healy & Bailey Attorneys for Marine Electric New York, N.Y.

Tort Liability System

Just Isn't Fair

It's incorrect to characterize the insurance industry as bent on taking rights away from society in the efforts to reform the tort liability system, as you did in your Jan. 28 editorial, "A Bitter Message." And there is no connection between these efforts and the experience of the widow of Astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom, as you imply.

The problem with the tort liability system is that it just isn't fair. And the impetus for improving it is coming from society itself. Society is telling us it no longer is willing to bear the staggering costs of the liability system - or to pay for the system through insurance premiums.

How is it doing this? Through the passage of Proposition 51 in California. Through public opinion polls, by Gallup, Louis Harris, Cambridge Reports and others, all showing strong support for controlling the costs of the liability system. And through the actions of some 39 state legislatures - responding to the wishes of their constituencies - which have taken the first steps toward making the tort system fair to all.

Ed O'Hare Vice President Media Relations Insurance Information Institute New York

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