The defendants in the case are Dive Rite Express, an online retailer affiliated to diving-equipment manufacturer Dive Rite, and its owner Mark Derrick.
Reporting on the opening of a two-week trial at Palm Beach County Circuit Court, the Palm Beach Post carried the claim of Terri Skiles’ lawyer Dustin Herman that the suppliers of the Dive Rite rebreather her husband was using had failed to carry out appropriate safety tests on the equipment.
Skiles, 53 and from Florida, was a veteran of more than 7000 dives and a pioneering cave-diver. At the time of his death in July 2010, the court heard, he was using the rebreather while photographing goliath grouper in the Atlantic off the city of Boynton Beach. He became unconscious on an ascent from 25m and lost his mouthpiece before drowning.
“This is about failing to do safety-testing on a piece of life-safety equipment,” Herman told the jury. “If a corporation doesn’t do this type of testing, divers will die.”
However David Concannon, representing Mark Derrick in court, said that Skiles was not certified to use the rebreather, and that he had taken insomnia medication and a painkiller before the dive. Addressing the jury of seven, Concannon said: “We’re going to ask you to find that it’s more likely than not that Mr Skiles caused his own death.”
Key evidence will include a 45-minute video of the dive, the Palm Beach Post reported. Herman claimed that this would show that the rebreather had malfunctioned, while Concannon countered that it would reveal mistakes made by Skiles, including ignoring functioning warning systems and turning off his oxygen supply.
According to contemporary accounts of the incident, Skiles was using a Dive Rite O2ptima FX closed-circuit rebreather borrowed from another diver. His death was officially declared an accidental drowning at the time.