Drowning Accidents and SCUBA Diving

It is estimated that there are about 100 deaths each year that can be directly linked to recreational SCUBA diving, and a smaller number of deaths are associated with professional divers (e.g. underwater welders or underwater pipeline and cable inspectors). In this post, a drowning accident lawyer will review the causes of deaths during or immediately after a recreational dive and then examine how a drowning lawyer may be able to help the families of such accidents.

Potential Causes of SCUBA Diving Deaths or Injuries

Investigations of SCUBA drowning accidents have produced a large amount of statistical data, although the usefulness of these data is often limited by the fact that most accident investigations are superficial and the cause of death is usually listed as “drowning” and no one bothers to investigate the circumstances that led to such drownings. In fact, unless the investigation is conducted by experienced accident investigators, causative factors such as equipment failure or air mixture problems will not be appreciated.

None the less, most water safety experts list the following as potential causes of SCUBA drownings:

  • Inadequate air supply, causing the diver to panic and attempt to make critical decisions while under stress or while suffering from hypoxia (low oxygen level in the blood).
  • Improper buoyancy compensation, causing the diver to enter the water carrying excess weight and thus preventing controlled ascent or descent once the diver is in the water.
  • Failure to ditch weight belts when in distress, causing the diver to struggle with excess weight when attempting to swim after surfacing.
  • Equipment malfunction, although relatively uncommon, may deprive a diver with sufficient oxygen even though the tanks were properly filled and maintained.

From a medical standpoint, other issues that may have bearing on SCUBA drowning accidents are:

  • Asphyxia (loss of consciousness due to some interference with oxygen intake and/or carbon dioxide removal).
  • Arterial gas embolism occurring secondary to an accelerated ascent from depth. If these is damage to the lugs during ascent, gas may leak into the body’s arterial circulation.
  • Pre-existing cardiac disease is a factor in deaths occurring in divers over the age of 50. Undetected cardiac structural defects, such as a previously undetected patent foramen ovale (a small hole in the tissue separating the heart’s upper chambers) can lead to an incapacitating stroke.

Finally, an inexperienced diver may not have the experience of a more-seasoned diver and may either fail to notice a developing problem until the diver’s life is endangered or that inexperienced diver may panic at the first sign of trouble and thus convert a minor problem into a life-endangering situation.

Unlike traffic accidents, SCUBA accidents almost always occur in relative isolation on either the open water or on inland water that isolates the diver and the surface crew. Thus, there is often a significant delay before rescue personnel can be summoned. Further complicating rescue is the fact that few crews remember to fix the diver’s last known location by referencing landmarks ashore or by deploying a buoy before leaving the area to summon help when a diver fails to surface at the appropriate time.

Liability and Diving Accidents

Liability in SCUBA drowning accidents can be hard to establish due to the fact, as mentioned above, that the post-accident investigations by local law enforcement agencies are usually not thorough. If the drowning accident occurred in an area that is monitored by the Coast Guard, the investigation will generally be more extensive. Unfortunately, most such drowning accidents occur in areas where the Coast Guard does not have an active presence.

Since many drowning victims are the breadwinners of a family, SCUBA drowning accidents often cause the victim’s survivors to experience significant financial problems. In addition to loss of regular wages and other income, these accidents are sometimes contested by insurance carriers and thus the payment of accidental death benefits may be significantly delayed

If you have lost a family member to a SCUBA drowning accident, or if a family member suffered an injury while diving, you are strongly advised to arrange a consultation with a personal injury and drowning lawyer. In your initial consultation, your drowning attorney will review that facts of your case and help you decide on the legal avenues that may be available in your SCUBA accidental drowning case.

As noted earlier, there may be liability issues that must be decided on complicated legal grounds. Only an experienced accidental drowning lawyer will understand such issues and his or her assistance may prove invaluable in securing a drowning victim’s family’s right to be compensated for their loss.