Although inquiries into major disasters indicate that inadequate safety systems are usually to blame, those who could have prevented the disaster, with its associated loss of life and property, are rarely made accountable. The legal difficulty is that disasters normally result from crimes of omission rather than from the deliberate intent to harm.
The coroner's verdict on disaster victims is usually accidental death, although in the case of the 187 killed by Zeebrugge disaster of 1987 it was unlawful killing. In the subsequent trial of the ferry company on a charge of corporate manslaughter, the case was dismissed because it was ruled that the senior defendants could not be held criminally liable, as there was no evidence that they had disregarded an obvious risk. The situation is complicated because in efforts to ensure some form of financial compensation there is a trade-off between money and truth. Victims' families are encouraged to agree settlements out of court, on the understanding that they do not reveal the amount and that there is no admission of liability by the corporate body. In the case of the Lockerbie disaster, despite a verdict in the USA of wilful misconduct against the airline that had allowed the bomb to be smuggled aboard, compensation of victims has been delayed at least five years.