Dive Professionals Be Aware [Beware!] Part III
Yes, it’s the dive community itself creating the climate for many of the lawsuits!
I’m sure most of the divers reading this article have visited other scuba internet discussion forums. Many of those forums have an area dedicated specifically to diving accidents. The intent of the discussion is to educate the dive community on the errors committed during those dives, so as to prevent other divers from making those same mistakes. [A noble and worthwhile cause to be sure.]
However, there are a couple limitations preventing any real education from taking place.
The first limitation is the lack of specific details about the incident in the initial press releases. The specifics of the accident won’t be discovered until after all the investigations are completed, which will take days, weeks or even months. However, the news media have deadlines to meet, so they release what little information they have at the moment.
Unfortunately the scuba forums don’t let the lack of facts or details limit their discussions, they roll on without them. The subscribers don’t seem to be aware that the initial reports are missing vital information about the incident, and that any meaningful discussion is pointless at this time. They start the discussion anyway, using what little information they do have, and just filling in the gaps with speculations, assumptions and suppositions. And when it’s brought to their attention that the discussion has degraded into the realm of pure speculation, someone invariably states: Hey, we can’t wait for the release of the final report; someone could suffer the same fate in the meantime. We need to educate the dive community with what we have right now [How in the world can you educate other divers on what went wrong when you literally have no idea what really happened?]
The second limitation is that the initial press releases are often full of inaccuracies. These releases are written by reporters who are NOT divers, so they’re not familiar with scuba terminology, certification levels, procedures or practices. They truly have no idea if what they’re writing makes any sense to the knowledgeable reader.
Take the initial press release dealing with the ‘Joe Diver’ incident. The only thing correct in the entire statement was the final outcome, that of ‘Joe Diver’ being pronounced dead at the hospital. But literally EVERYTHING else in that release was wrong: his level of certification, what he was doing on the dive, who accompanied him, when and where the problem occurred, and his condition immediately after the problem presented itself. Again, the reporter writing the press release was not on the boat, nor was he even a diver. He was just doing the best job he could in combining the information he had from several sources into one brief account.
So get this! With this completely erroneous press release, a particular scuba forum dove in on this incident [Bad pun intended]. Sadly, to date the ‘Joe Diver’ thread has accumulated over 280 posts, ALL based on incorrect information. The discussion rolled on, with posts citing those inaccurate statements as FACTS to support their opinions on what they believe went wrong. Even when corrections to the initial information were posted, people kept referring back to the original erroneous release as the basis for their conclusions. Of course the posts started out with good intentions, you know, the educational factor. But before long, educating the dive community was no longer the emphasis of the thread, judging the individuals they deemed responsible for the accident was now the main topic. And from there the vicious cycle continued on to condemning the responsible individuals, demanding the revocation of the certifications for those individuals they have falsely identified. What was once an educational endeavor has now degraded into nothing more than a lynch mob!
But what harm can be done when a group of divers merely discusses a dive incident, whether or not they have all the facts, regardless of the accuracy of the details, even if no actual accident prevention takes place, right? In reality this is just an internet discussion with no real world effects, right? So what’s the big deal, nobody gets hurt here, right?
[The sad reality is that diver education and accident prevention wasn’t the real motivating factor for many of the subscribers posting. Their true motivation was getting their egos stroked by demonstrating their superior knowledge and experience to the rest of the dive community. They could not care less about diver education.]
The belief that no harm is being done by these erroneous discussions is VERY wrong! The families and friends of the victims are being hurt by this! They’re both grieving from their loss and searching for explanations of what happened on that dive. They NEED to fully understand what went wrong. They search for any information they can find about the accident, which eventually leads them to the scuba forums. It’s here where they read how their loved one was seriously injured or died due to the gross negligence of the individuals the discussion forum has incorrectly blamed. Their grief suddenly turns to anger after reading the dozens and dozens of posts detailing all the errors that lead to the accident. [Again, Remember all these conclusions are based on incomplete and erroneous information.]
When family members attempt to get clarification from the subscribers as the where they‘re getting their information, they are promptly informed by the forum moderator that it is recommended they not participate in this forum. The topics being discussed will be painful from them to read, and their presence in the forum will inhibit the discussion process, which in turn undermines the learning process of other divers. [I don’t know what’s worse here, the arrogance of the forum or the insensitivity towards the family? How dare ANYBODY take this inhumane stance with a family who are just seeking answers?] It’s not surprising they end up filing suit; they become so angry after all they’ve read, what would you expect them to do?
So, what should the dive professional take away from this all this?
Just be aware of the precarious position you’ve put yourself in by merely being a dive professional! Know that the million dollar insurance policy you’re required to have is putting you in the cross-hairs of dozens of law firms, and in the unlikely event that one of your students is injured while diving, just EXPECT a lawsuit! Also, everybody needs to be sensitive to the feelings of family members and friends of dive accident victims by not engaging in speculative discussions on scuba forums. It just makes a bad situation worse, and is completely un-professional to do so!