Archive for the ‘Scuba Diving’ Category

Scuba Tragedy – Diver Drowns; Releases Enforceability to Protect Diver Association from Ordinary Negligence (HI)

September 3, 2015

Hambrock v. Smith (Hawaii)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff, her husband, and their children went on a recreational scuba diving excursion that departed from Hawaii.  During the excursion, plaintiff’s husband died by drowning.  Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against numerous defendants, including (1) the dive guide on the scuba excursion (“Smith”), (2) the co-captain of the dive vessel (“McCrea”), (3) a dive training organization and an association for diving instructors and dive centers in which both the Smith and McCrea were members (“PADI”), and (4) the corporate entity out of which the Smith and McCrea ran their scuba excursions (“HSS”).  The lawsuit alleged negligence (all defendants), gross negligence (all defendants), and vicarious liability on theories of apparent agency, agency by estoppel, and maritime joint venture (against PADI).

PADI filed a motion seeking summary judgment as to both the negligence claims and the vicarious liability claims against it (i.e., all claims except gross negligence) based on the liability releases signed by the plaintiff and her family prior to the scuba diving activities.  In addition to opposing PADI’s motion, the plaintiff also filed a motion for partial summary judgment of her own, challenging the enforceability of the releases.  In addressing the enforceability of the releases, the U.S. District Court for Hawaii reviewed both admiralty law and Hawaii state law.

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Broken Record – Judgment in Favor of Scuba-Diving Instructor in Death Case Upheld (TX)

April 29, 2015

DeWolf v. Kohler (Texas)

In 2008, Terry Sean DeWolf died while scuba diving more than fifty miles off the coast of Massachusetts.  Initially, the medical examiner identified the cause of death as drowning, but later revised the conclusion to reflect that he died of natural causes (myocarditis).  Terry’ wife thereafter filed a lawsuit against numerous defendants, including (among others) the boat used for the dive, the individual who chartered the boat (Kohler), a television network which had carried a program on which Kohler had appeared, the dive-training company from which Kohler obtained credentials as a scuba-diving instructor, and the scuba-equipment manufacturer that manufactured the rebreather that Terry had used during the dive.  The wife alleged several claims, including violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, the federal Death on the High Seas Act, and other state law claims.

Numerous motions were filed in this complicated lawsuit, and the trial court addressed many issues relating to personal jurisdiction and statutes of limitation.  Ultimately, Kohler was the only remaining defendant and the case proceeded to trial.  Following a jury trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the defendant, and the wife appealed.  On appeal, the wife challenged instructions that were given to the jury.

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Scuba Diving School Stays Above Water

July 6, 2008

Booth v. Bowen (U.S. Virgin Islands-UNPUBLISHED)
(Federal Court Enforces Waiver in Favor of Scuba Diving School; Denied Claims of Heirs Suing on Behalf of Novice Scuba Diver Who Died While Completing the School’s Introductory Course.)

This case involved an action brought by the heirs of a deceased scuba diver. The decedent participated in a novice diving course in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The deceased had no diving experience. Before participating, he signed a “Questionnaire” which was titled “Liability Release and Assumption of Risk Agreement.” The school argued that the language of the agreement relieved them from negligence liability. The plaintiff-heirs argued that the waiver should be unenforceable on public policy grounds because the agreement improperly barred the claims of heirs and family member of the deceased. The plaintiffs contested the fact that the agreement signed by the decedent precluded an undetermined class of individuals (heirs and family members) from filing suit.

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