Friday, October 29, 2010

Scuba Diver Left at Sea Wins Lawsuit

I found this story especially interesting because I'm a Scuba Divemaster (professional level recreational diver).

Daniel Carlock, an aerospace engineer from Santa Monica, CA, won a $1.68 million verdict against a Scuba company running a dive boat in CA. Carlock surfaced about 400 ft from the boat after having trouble equalizing the pressure in his ears. He tried to swim back but got cramps. He then blew on his emergency whistle and inflated his yellow emergency diving sausage, but did not get anyone's attention.

The divemaster on the boat marked him as present before the ship took off for another dive site seven miles away. At that site, Carlock was marked on the dive roster as having taken the second dive. Not until several hours later did anyone realize he was missing.

Crew radioed the Coast Guard, which came to the second dive site. Meanwhile, Carlock was drifting south of the first dive site into strong currents, believing his death was imminent.

The Coast Guard never found Carlock. He was rescued by a ship carrying a bunch of boy scouts (literally), when one scout looking through his binoculars happened to see Carlock. The ship had changed course to avoid colliding with a freighter. Otherwise, Carlock would have been out of sight.

Carlock was in the water for five hours. He suffers from PTSD and now has skin cancer as a result of the sun exposure on the water.

Total damages amounted to $2 million, but the jury found Carlock partially at fault for surfacing away from the boat after the divers had been told to surface near the boat. The Scuba company tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that divers assume the risks of the sport. They failed. The judge appropriately noted that being abandoned at sea is not a risk inherent in Scuba diving.

What this dive company did is beyond negligence. The single most fundamental and important task of being a Divemaster is assuring that everyone who got in the water gets back on the boat before you leave. You do this by calling names out, in addition to seeing the divers (after all, people often look the same in wetsuits or drysuits). You demand that each diver has a buddy, even if it's a stranger. Each person is responsible for at least checking on his or her buddy, both inside and outside the water. This dive company failed the most basic safety procedure, and did so multiple times.

As for the plaintiff's contributory fault, yes, you are supposed to surface near the boat. But sometimes you need to surface where you are. Under some circumstances it's more dangerous to navigate back underwater. Even if he were negligent, however, his emergency whistle and inflatable sausage should have mitigated the negligence.

No comments:

Post a Comment