Failure to Properly Recognize and Treat Barotrauma Injuries
A common claim for dive shop or charter company negligence occurs when the dive shop or charter company fails to recognize and/or provide prompt appropriate emergency medical care and treatment to a diver experiencing symptoms of decompression sickness or arterial gas embolism. Initial onset of cerebral arterial gas embolism or decompression sickness may first manifest in a diver through presentation of subtle symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, numbness, muscle weakness, vertigo, dizziness, headaches, personality changes and other neurologic changes. Following the onset of these symptoms a patient’s condition over time may worsen with the final consequence resulting in permanent paralysis, severe brain damage or even death.
The hyperbaric medical community suggests that the most important factor in reducing the severity
Charter companies and dive shops are obligated under the law to provide prompt emergency medical assistance and, if required, evacuation.
of cerebral arterial gas embolism and decompression illness is the rapid diagnosis of the injury and prompt hyperbaric treatment. As the delay in diagnosis and treatment increases, so does the severity and permanence of the residual damage.
Charter companies and dive shops are obligated under the law to provide prompt emergency medical assistance and, if required, evacuation when a guest diver sustains a diving related injury offshore. Recognizing this legally imposed duty, the dive shop or charter company must ensure that its crew, primarily through the vessel captain and dive master, be properly trained in the recognition and emergency treatment of all of the symptoms of decompression illness and air embolism.
This duty does not obligate dive operators to provide medical treatment on par with a hyperbaric physician, nor does the law require an on-site recompression chamber.The operators are obligated, however, to be equipped to address emergency situations offshore. Aproperly provisioned dive boat should be equipped with a standard O2 unit such as the one found in the basic “DAN Rescue Pak.”
The dive vessel should also have appropriate communications capability in order to directly communicate with emergency and medical personnel.
Logistical transportation, support, and communication capability requires that the dive master or charter company be both familiar with the location of the nearest hyperbaric facility and, further, have in place a plan to provide emergency medical evacuation, by air if necessary, for its guests. Being properly equipped and logistically prepared are the earmarks of a prudent dive shop or charter company.
The medical case books are filled with horror stories of injured sport divers reporting subtle symptoms of decompression sickness or cerebral arterial gas embolism to operators only to have their complaints ignored or dismissed. Instead of following an appropriate emergency plan, the vessel captain or dive master instead choses to simply reassure the diver that the injury was minor, or counsels the diver to “take it easy” for the remainder of the trip. This example of negligent administration to the diver often results in lifelong disability, permanent residual injury or death.
Further complicating the emergency is the “macho-like” pressure to “tough it out,” an attitude often self- imposed by the injured diver or his
When reviewing the actions of the dive master or vessel captain the seminal question becomes did the dive master or vessel captain act as an ordinarily prudent dive master or captain under the circumstances?
peers. Diving is no place for macho bravado; preparedness, prudence and good sense save lives.
In summary, when reviewing the actions of the dive master or vessel captain the seminal question becomes did the dive master or vessel captain act as an ordinarily prudent dive master or captain under the circumstances? If the answer is “No,” the operator may be found legally negligent and liable for the diver’s injury and resulting damages.