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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Diverís Estate Sues for His Wrongful Death

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The estate of a 40-year-old man who drowned on a Puget Sound dive trip in 2011 has sued the groups that led the trip for wrongful death. "Robert Vance was clearly distressed, exhausted, light-headed and was struggling to stay afloat," the lawsuit, filed last month in Washington State, asserts. It contends that Steve's Scuba Center in Milwaukie, OR, Bandito Charters in Tacoma, WA, and the training agency SSI were negligent in their supervision of the dive trip on which Vance died.

Vance and several other student divers were aboard the Sampan, operated by Bandito Charters, when it left Gig Harbor, WA, on the morning of November 19, 2011. He had made 23 dives before that trip, but was making his first coldwater boat dive that day. The lawsuit contends that Steve's Scuba Center provided Vance with two air tanks, both of which contained toxic levels of carbon monoxide. When he entered the water alone just before 10 a.m., Vance almost immediately began experiencing equipment problems, including loose fins and trouble with his regulator.

Instead of helping him out of the water, dive instructors and deckhands shouted instructions. Vance then passed out and sank to 52 feet. It took between five and 10 minutes to rescue him. He was brought to the surface and CPR was performed until the boat reached the dock, then Vance was transported to Tacoma General Hospital, where he remained unconscious until he was pronounced dead at approximately 5:40 p.m. that day.

While the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Vance's death an accident, the suit claims the "Defendants failed to read and react to Mr. Vance's panic and thereby properly respond and rescue him in accordance with industry custom, practice and applicable standards, and, in doing so, failed to preclude his injury and death." The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Vance's estate; he left behind a 19-year-old son.

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