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January 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Wacky Instructorís Course Leads to Bent Diverís $15,000 Settlement

from the January, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Here's a reason why dive shops need to vet their instructors before sending them out to take novice divers underwater. After making her first dives during a Red Sea vacation, a British woman signed up for a PADI dive course in her native England. Everything went fine until the third and final openwater dive at Stoney Cove, near Leicester. The instructor had forgotten to bring the woman's gear, so on the first day, she had to make do with gear that was cobbled together using borrowed items from a "spare box." She was given a 5-mm wetsuit, fine for the Red Sea but well below the thickness needed for a spring-fed fresh water quarry in the U.K. where the water is frequently only a few degrees above freezing).. Nonetheless, she was expected to complete three dives on the first day. Dives one and two were to a depth of 20 feet, and dive three dropped to 42 feet, contravening PADI policy of the deepest dive first.

The next day, the diver had the incorrect weight, which hadn't been spotted because no buoyancy test was carried out before the dive, again contrary to PADI guidelines. She struggled to descend and remain at depth, so while submerged, she was given a boulder to hold while the instructor returned to the surface to get more weights. But he then mistakenly placed twice as much weight as was intended in her BC. She and her buddy returned to the surface and inflated their BCs, and after a few minutes, the instructor signaled the group that they should dive again. Due to the extra weight she now carried, she sank like the proverbial stone. The instructor raced to catch up with her at 16 feet, and immediately pulled her to the surface, without stopping to allow her to equalize during the rapid ascent.

Upon reaching the surface, she felt disoriented and experienced a spinning sensation. The instructor advised her to lie horizontally on the surface to recuperate, which she did for eight minutes, then completed the final dive to 20 feet. Later, she told the instructor she had a severe ear ache. He gave her tiger balm and advised her to put a sock of salt on her ear to draw out any water. When she got home, the pain in her ear was excruciating. She tried the "salty sock" remedy, but eventually went to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a suspected perforated eardrum.

Later that evening, she saw a red-orange tint on her skin, along with a widespread rash. She called the diving school, describing her symptoms, and they advised her to contact the London Dive Chamber, which told her to come in immediately for emergency decompression treatment. When she arrived, she was unable to walk in a straight line and was slurring her speech. She remained in decompression for six hours and needed three further treatments. Then she hired a lawyer.

Although the dive school admitted it had hired the instructor in question, it denied that any contract of employment existed, and both the school and the instructor denied liability throughout. When the woman's lawyers showed medical records and started gathering medical experts' testimony for court, both the school and instructor settled for US$15,000. We think she should have gotten a lot more.

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