The Last Victim of the USS Indianapolis

The USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 30th, 1945, just months before the grim conclusion of World War II, to which the ship’s crew had contributed mightily by delivering materials for the atomic bomb to Tinian Island. It wasn’t that nobody noticed that the Portland-class cruiser hadn’t arrived at port; due to the secretive nature of its mission, the Indianapolis was left off the books. So when she went under, taking 300 men down and casting 900 more into the sea, nobody seemed to notice.

The Stuff of Hollywood

Even if only from the monologue of Quint, the scary fishing boat captain played so well by Robert Shaw in Jaws, a good many people now know about the fate of the Indianapolis. Out of nearly 900 men who survived the torpedo attack, only 318 were pulled from the waters. Some drowned or died of exposure in the brutal elements, but an estimated 500 of them were eaten by sharks over the course of three and a half days before the men were spotted and saved.

Miscarriage of Justice

The last major warship to be lost in World War II, the Indianapolis was captained by Charles B. McVay III. Curiously, the U.S. Navy found him fit to be the only captain to court-martialed for losing a ship during wartime. They determined that he had not taken sufficient evasive action (specifically failing to “zigzag”), thereby placing his ship and his crew in danger. But even the Japanese sub commander later stated that such maneuvers would not have prevented him from slamming two torpedoes into the Indy’s starboard bow.

McVay was found on his lawn in 1968, having killed himself with his service revolver, a toy sailor clutched in his other hand. Although the Navy records have never been officially changed, McVay received an official Conressional exoneration in 2000, in hopes of reversing what many military and legal historians consider to be a miscarriage of justice. After all, even though a few of the victims’ families chose to blame him even long after the war had ended, the captain had spent every minute in those deadly waters with his men.

The Scales of Justice

When injuries take place, summarily resulting in legal action, courts must determine whether or not the accused is actually responsible for the damages that have been outlined in the lawsuit. Defense attorneys will closely examine how much of a role the plaintiff may have played in the accident. One would not think that a plaintiff who had been intoxicated would be able to make a sturdy claim against someone else for his own demise, but it happened in New York City.

Beware of Train

In 2006, an unlucky fellow who had put away a few too many drinks stumbled into the path on an oncoming subway car, sustaining severely traumatic injuries that included the amputation of his leg. He sued the city, and a jury that couldn’t help but sympathize with him, awarding him $2.3 million (pending appeal) even though he was determined to have been 35 percent responsible for the mishap.

Not the First Time

It bore a troubling resemblance to a similar accident that took place in 2002, when one James Sanders suffered the same fate – also losing a leg, and an eye as well. His award was $7 million. When juries have access to the tax coffers in major municpalities, plaintiffs often realize astronomical awards, deservedly or otherwise. Obviously, in both cases, the injured parties’ lives were irrevocably changed for the worse.

The paradox is that criminal charges against any defendant would be aggravated, not mitigated, by the fact that a citizen had been drunk in any event in which property was damaged and people were hurt. Intoxication is never an excuse for the commission of any crime (or conspiracy), yet it doesn’t absolve the civil defendant – in this case the city of New York – of blame in these instances.