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Diving Accidents: Who is Liable?

August 18, 2021
Personal Injury

Scuba diving can be a great adventure, allowing mankind to explore places we wouldn’t be able to naturally. However, categorized as an extreme sport by many, scuba diving comes with its risk of injury – and even death. Because scuba diving can be so risky, almost every life insurance provider will decline your application if you dive alone and uncertified. Other life insurance policies will, depending on the frequency of your dives and their depths, accept the application but offer astronomical rates.

According to the Divers Alert Network (DAN), Florida is the state with the highest number of scuba diving fatalities. Nationally, DAN reports that scuba diving leads to approximately 1,000 injuries a year.

What are some of the common injuries faced by scuba divers?

While scuba diving can lead to an array of injuries, these are some of the more common ones:

  • Decompression sickness
  • Injury with marine life
  • Hypothermia
  • Panic/distress
  • Ear pain
  • Brain Injury
  • Pulmonary Barotrauma
  • Embolism
  • Physical injury due to unsafe dive site
  • Physical injury due to boat collision
  • Drowning

When people think of scuba diving, they think of a worry-free descent to the depths surrounded by marine life. What many don’t realize is that the descent (and ascent) are extremely important. As a scuba diver goes deeper underwater, the pressure of their outside environment increases while simultaneously the pressure in the middle ear is being squeezed. The contrast in inner pressure and environmental pressure can cause divers to experience pain in their ears. When a diver attempts to equalize their ears they can cause temporary or permanent damage.

More specifically, scuba divers can suffer barotrauma. This is when a change in pressure causes tissue injury to the face, ears, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, eyes or sinuses. Symptoms of barotrauma include breathing problems, ear pain, bloodshot eyes, bloody nose or chest pain.

Another serious injury is decompression sickness. Also known as “the bends,” decompression sickness is caused by the rapid decrease in pressure around a diver, causing the body to absorb too much nitrogen. Ascending too quickly does not give the body time to dissolve the nitrogen from the air tank, which can cause bubbles to form in the brain, lungs and ear. In 2011, a Keys’ teen died after surfacing from a dive too quickly. The 16-year-old boy was out spearfishing with scuba tanks when he noticed his tank was running out of air. He surfaced quickly without properly decompressing. He soon after shared that he “felt funny,” lost consciousness and passed away. This, again, happened recently in 2019 when an Arkansas man died after collapsing from a 112 foot scuba dive.

What can cause a scuba diving injury or death?

The aforementioned injuries can be caused by many things. Accidents can result from:

  • Out-of-air emergencies
  • Failure to follow regulations
  • Negligent medical rescue
  • Negligent “dive buddy”
  • Negligent training
  • Faulty equipment (e.g., defective scuba tank)
  • Dangerous environmental conditions
  • Improper use of decompression tables

Who could you have claims against following a diving accident?

There are various entities that could be liable for your scuba diving injury:

  1. Rental/Equipment Company

The rental/equipment company is responsible for the conditions of everything from the tank to the wet suit, if provided. Therefore, it is the responsibility of that company to have adequate and reasonable equipment monitoring procedures. Faulty equipment could be anything from too much nitrogen in a tank (improper tank fill) to a malfunctioning pressure valve. Any of these equipment malfunctions could give grounds for a negligence or product liability claim against the company and manufacturers.

  1. Dive/Charter Company/Vessel Operator

The dive/charter company and/or vessel operator is responsible for a series of procedures, including choosing a safe dive site, maintaining a safe vessel, and putting the right warning flags up. Additionally, if the charter company that is operating the vessel causes you injury, like hitting you with the propellers, you could have a negligence claim against them. If the charter company brings you out in unsafe weather conditions, you could have a claim against them for failure to follow U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations. Lastly, charters companies and vessel operators could be held responsible by applying the Undertaker’s doctrine. The 3rd District Court in Florida has described the Undertaker’s doctrine as: “whenever one undertakes to provide a service to others, whether one does so gratuitously or by contract, the individual who undertakes to provide the service — i.e., the ‘undertaker’ — thereby assumes a duty to act carefully and to not put others at an undue risk of harm.  The undertaker is subject to liability if: (a) he or she fails to exercise reasonable care, which results in increased harm to the beneficiary; or (b) the beneficiary relies upon the undertaker and is harmed as a result.” This application of the ‘reasonable care’ standard could aid plaintiffs in demonstrating how the charter company/vessel operator was responsible for their injury.

  1. Dive Instructor/Master

A dive instructor could be liable for taking an uncertified diver scuba diving. Another way courts have found liability against scuba diving instructors is for providing false or misleading information that the diver then detrimentally relied on. If, for example, the instructor exaggerates their level of diving experience or the environmental conditions of the dive and that leads to an injury, the injured diver could sue. Additionally, a dive instructor/master is responsible for assisting divers in checking and monitoring the systems before the dive, instituting a safe dive and rescue plan, sharing air if needed, maintaining a close and watchful distance, and aiding in emergency surfacing. Most dive instructors/masters will have a professional, group professional or general liability insurance to cover when a customer is injured during a dive.

 Contact Our Office for a Free Consultation

If you have suffered an injury during a scuba diving excursion, you could be entitled to a financial award that covers medical expenses, pain, suffering and lost income. Multiple attorneys at Mase Mebane Seitz are scuba certified and understand both the joys and risks of diving, while also having extensive experience dealing with diving claims. Get the dedicated, personalized representation you deserve. Call Mase Mebane Seitz at (305) 487-8863 for a free case consultation.

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