£10,000 award for woman injured by negligence of scuba diving school

£10,000 award for woman injured by negligence of scuba diving school

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A surprise gift of a scuba diving course from her partner almost turned into a tragedy for our client.

scuba diverOur client had to undergo emergency decompression treatment as a consequence of the diving school's and the diving instructor's negligence. She was a novice diver with limited experience gained when she was on holiday in Egypt in 2006.

She jumped at the chance to get more experience from a four day scuba diving course by a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) registered firm.

The PADI Open Water Diver course she enrolled in consisted of a written theory test to understand basic principles of scuba diving, some confined water dives to learn basic scuba skills and finally open water dives to apply those lessons and newly acquired skills and explore the undersea world.

After the written theory module, the confined dive element took place in an indoor swimming pool in Aylesbury and all seemed to be going well. The third and final open water diving module was to take place at the National Dive Centre, Stoney Cove near Leicester and it was then that things started to go wrong.

The instructor had forgotten to take our client's equipment to the National Dive Centre, so on the first day she had to make do with kit that was cobbled together using 'borrowed' items taken from a 'spares' box.

Scuba divers in British waters have to be a hardy bunch. Our client was given a 5 mm Neoprene wetsuit, fine for places like the Red Sea but well below the thicker suits normally recommended for open water diving in the UK.

Nonetheless, despite a lack of thermal protection and being bitterly cold due to the thinner wetsuit, she was expected to complete three dives on the first day. Dives one and two were to a depth of six metres and dive three plummeted to 13 metres.

Sharine Burgess, the senior associate solicitor specialising in personal injury who handled this case, comments:

'This was not a good start and  a complete contravention of PADI's own guidelines to avoid decompression sickness, which state that the depth limit for training dives should be 12 metres and when conducting several dives, the deepest should be done first and all subsequent dives should be shallower.'

The following day our client was handicapped by having the incorrect weights on her weight belt. This hadn't been spotted as 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 lead weights.  

Additional weights were mistakenly placed twice in her Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) which meant she was now unbalanced. She and her 'dive buddy' returned to the surface, carrying out a normal ascent and after a few minutes, the instructor signalled the group that they should dive again.

Due to the extra weights she now carried, our client sank like the proverbial stone, descending rapidly and leaving the rest of the group behind. The instructor raced to catch up with her at a depth of around five metres and immediately pulled her to the surface without stopping to allow our client to 'equalise' during the rapid ascent.

Upon reaching the surface our client told the instructor that she felt disorientated and experienced a spinning sensation. She was advised to lay horizontally on the surface of the water to recuperate which she did for around eight minutes.  She then completed the final dive to a depth of six metres.

Afterwards, our client told the instructor that she had severe earache.  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 and she felt generally very unwell.  She tried the 'salty sock' remedy but eventually had to get herself to hospital where she was diagnosed with a suspected perforated eardrum.

Later that same evening she developed a weird red orange tint on her skin together with a widespread rash. She called the diving school, describing her symptoms and they advised her to contact the London Dive Chamber (LDC).   She told the LDC her story and they insisted she get to them without delay to undergo emergency decompression treatment.

The journey to the London Dive Chamber took our client about an hour.  By the time she got there she was unable to walk in a straight line and was slurring her speech. She remained in decompression for about six hours and needed three further decompression treatments.

Sharine explains:

'After listening to her story, it seemed a pretty obvious case of negligence on the part of both the school itself and the individual instructor.  There was a catalogue of almost 20 instances of negligence or failure to take adequate measures to protect our client from harm, so we agreed to take the case on a no-win-no-fee basis.'

In particular, the failure to provide her with the correct diving equipment and a wetsuit that gave adequate thermal protection impeded the circulation and contributed significantly to the compression sickness (more popularly referred to as 'the bends') she had evidently suffered.

We prepared a letter of claim and obtained full medical records and expert medical reports to support our claim for the injuries our client suffered, which included a perforated right eardrum, episodes of vertigo with impaired balance, decompression injury and understandable psychological aversion to immersing her head under water.

Although the diving school admitted that it had engaged the instructor on the course in question, it denied that any contract of employment existed and both defendants denied liability throughout.  The way around this was simply to take action against two defendants - the school itself and the instructor – and compile a convincing case. Without the need to go to court, we achieved an award of £10,000 for our client.

Our client was very happy with the result and said:

'I am a busy professional and often work overseas therefore the flexibility of communicating directly with my solicitor by e-mail was important to me.  I was impressed by the service I received throughout the course of my claim.  The claims process was explained fully and I was always kept up to date.  I am very pleased with the outcome.'

What to do next?

If you or someone you know has suffered any kind of personal injury, including an accident at work, our dedicated team of personal injury solicitors can help. Initial advice is free of charge and is available Monday to Saturday on our helpline 03700 868 686.

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