Risk Management

Anatomy of a Lawsuit

A civil lawsuit generally consists of two parties, the plaintiff, who files the suit seeking compensation for damages; and the defendant (or defendants), whom the plaintiff alleges is responsible for those damages. In an injury case the plaintiff normally is the individual who actually suffered the injury, though in the case of a fatal injury it also can be the family or estate of the deceased. In order to be successful in the lawsuit, the plaintiff must demonstrate four elements, as outlined below; and normally, to be successful, each of these elements needs to be established merely by a preponderance of the evidence (which often is interpreted to mean that 51% of the evidence is in favor of the plaintiff).

    1. The plaintiff must be able to show damages, either financial or physical, or both.

    2. The plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant (or defendants) had a duty to
provide training or supervision in an atmosphere of reasonable safety.

    3. The plaintiff must be able to show that, by acts of commission or omission, the
defendant (or defendants) breached that duty.

    4. The plaintiff must be able to show that his or her damages are the direct result of
negligent performance by the defendant (or defendants).

In addition to actual damages, some jurisdictions also allow the plaintiff to pursue punitive damages, which are intended to further punish the defendant (or defendants) for deliberately injurious actions or other behavior deemed to be unusually egregious in nature.


It is an unfortunate fact that in the legal system within the USA, almost anyone can be sued for anything. The above elements need not be proven in order to file suit; instead, these elements only need to be alleged.


Once a suit is filed, both the plaintiff and defendant (or defendants) are entitled to discovery, which is a detailed process whereby each gathers evidence through formal demands for information and documents, and also through depositions (examinations under oath) of the involved parties and other witnesses. This discovery process is completed prior to trial, and the relevant information, documents, and testimony obtained during the discovery process may be introduced as evidence at trial.

As a matter of routine, in the USA, when first filing suit the plaintiff normally names as a defendant every conceivable party who may be involved in any way, either directly or indirectly, in this matter. It might include the dive leader who was supervising diving activities when the plaintiff’s injury occurred. It might include the dive facility that rented or last serviced the plaintiff’s gear. It also might include the Instructor or dive center who conducted some diver training program for the plaintiff several years prior to the incident. In some cases a defendant also may file a counter-suit against the plaintiff, or against one or more co-defendants. Eventually, as the discovery process continues, some of these defendants may be dismissed from the suit; however, prior to reaching this point, it is likely that each defendant already will have incurred significant legal expenses related to their own defense.

Though the above comments relate primarily to the legal system in the USA, it is important to note that those dive leaders and dive facilities located outside the USA are not necessarily immune from such lawsuits. The courts in the USA generally extend tremendous latitude to USA-based plaintiffs. Further, a plaintiff often will be able to establish a USA presence for a foreign dive leader or dive facility by identifying their use of a USA-based sales agent or representative, or by simply demonstrating that they directly or indirectly offer their services to USA-based clientele.

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Risk Management

Inherent Risks in Scuba Diving

At some point in time, almost every experienced diver has told a family member or interested friend that diving is a safe sport. As a dive leader, it is a mistake to make that kind of statement to anyone, especially someone just entering the sport as a student diver. It simply is not an accurate statement. “Safe” literally means “without risk”. In fact, few things in life are absolutely safe. Diving, like many other adventure sports, definitely has some inherent risks.

The particular risks associated with diving are detailed in the earlier chapter of this manual entitled Diving Physiology; among other issues these risks include decompression sickness and barotrauma, marine-life injuries, physical exertion with increased demands upon the cardio-respiratory system, and the possibility of drowning.

Risk management refers to the various efforts and procedures intended to minimize the inherent risks of scuba diving.


From the perspective of the diver, these inherent risks can be minimized through appropriate prerequisite training for all participants, followed by accurate application of the student’s knowledge and skills during all subsequent diving activities.


Nevertheless, despite these precautions, the possibility of injury still exists. Thus there is clear mandate for all participants to thoroughly understand and accept these risks. Furthermore, in today’s litigious society, whenever any injury occurs there also is the clear possibility of a lawsuit. Accordingly, from the perspective of the dive leader and dive facility, effective risk management further includes appropriate measures and strategies to mitigate the consequences of a participant’s injury.

Professional Skills, Intro

Topics Covered in this Chapter:

  • Risk Management
    •   Inherent Risks in Scuba Diving
    •   Anatomy of a Lawsuit
    •   Defensive Teaching and Supervising
    •   Student Training Records
    •   Medical Statement
    •   Liability Releases
    •   Liability Insurance for Dive Leaders
    •   In the Event of a Dive Accident
  • Review Questions

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Dealing with Specialty Divers

Special Considerations

Certain specialty-type diving activities will impose additional requirements on both the Divemaster and the participating divers. For example, in preparation for a night dive, the Divemaster may need to position marker lights on the boat or shore, and perhaps along an ascent line; the Divemaster also will need to remind the divers that each should have a primary and back-up dive light, as well as a personal marker light.

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When supervising a drift dive, the Divemaster should instruct the participants that they must stay together as a group during the dive, and that each buddy team should surface close to the dive flag at the end of the dive.

When supervising a wreck dive, the Divemaster will need to remind the divers that they should never penetrate into an overhead environment unless they are properly trained and equipped to do so.

During the briefing for a deep dive, the Divemaster should caution the divers to closely monitor both their air supply and their no-decompression limits, as they will consume air from their cylinders more quickly at deeper depths and their allowable bottom times also will be reduced; in addition, at some dive operations it is the responsibility of the Divemaster to position a cylinder and/or regulator at a depth of 5 metres or 15 feet during deep dives, enabling a diver to complete his or her safety stop (or an emergency decompression stop) even when low on air.

Each aspect of specialty diving has its own unique considerations. Naturally, in order to effectively supervise any specialty-type diving activities, the Divemaster already should be well experienced in these activities. Lacking such experience, the Divemaster would do well to complete the corresponding SDI Specialty Diver courses.

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Supervising Student Divers, Role

Supervising Technical Divers

Role of the Technical Divemaster

Technical Divemaster is a distinct professional-level certification within the TDI curriculum. Its prerequisites include certification as SDI Divemaster, plus certification as a TDI technical diver. The Technical Divemaster is then qualified to supervise technical divers up to the level of his or her own training and experience.

Much of the information applicable to supervising certified divers in general also applies to supervising technical divers. As before, the Technical Divemaster is the individual primarily responsible for supervising the activities of certified technical divers; and also as before, these Divemaster duties may be performed by a Technical Divemaster, a Technical Instructor, or even a Technical Instructor Trainer. In preparing to address these responsibilities, the Technical Divemaster should carefully assess the same two sets of circumstances before each dive, the first is the group of technical divers themselves, and the second is the dive site at which they will be diving. Thereafter, while tending to these responsibilities, the Technical Divemaster should focus on the five components of effective supervision and control; as previously detailed, these elements are suggested by the acronym “CORAL” and include Communication, Observation, Recognition and Response, Accounting, and Leadership.

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While supervising technical divers, it is important to recognize that, in general, such individuals tend to be more methodical and disciplined in their overall approach than their sport diving counterparts. They often will follow a very precise pre-dive routine; the Technical Divemaster normally should resist any unsolicited advice or assistance during preparation, as such may actually interfere with rather than facilitate the process. In addition, the technical diver may be entering the water with multiple cylinders, and certain cylinder valves may be opened while others are deliberately left closed for very specific reasons. Therefore the Technical Divemaster should never test or adjust any cylinder valve without the knowledge and approval of the individual technical diver.

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