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Jury to decide on PADI’s role in teenager’s death

The death of a teenage diver in a US mountain lake last November, in an incident partly captured on video by a fellow-trainee, has led to a $12 million negligence lawsuit against the dive-school owners and instructors, as well as training agency PADI.
Linnea Mills
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Diver training agency PADI is to be called before a jury in Montana, USA in connection with the death of teenage scuba diver Linnea Mills in November 2020. A judge has overruled PADI’s denial of responsibility for the actions of the dive centre and instructors involved in the incident.

Divernet carried the story of how Mills met her end in a mountain lake. The incident, partially captured on video by a fellow-trainee, led to a $12 million negligence lawsuit being filed by Mills’ parents and two other divers against Gull Dive of Missoula, its owners David & Jeannine Olson, instructors Debbie Snow and Seth Liston and PADI Worldwide. 

The agency was accused of negligence in its oversight of a member-business, and now Missoula County District Judge Leslie Halligan has denied its claim that it should not be included as a defendant.

Mills, 18, had been on the second dive of a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course in Lake MacDonald in Glacier National Park, north of her home city of Missoula, Montana.

An Open Water Diver, she had no previous coldwater-diving experience. She had hired dive-gear and a wetsuit from Gull Dive for the first dive of the course in another mountain lake but had been given no pre-dive briefing, according to the suit. Air temperatures had been sub-zero, and another trainee had lent Mills her wetsuit to help keep her warm.

Gull Dive had advised Mills to buy a drysuit for her second dive a few days later and she had purchased a secondhand custom-made suit that had come without an inflator. She was unaware that she needed one, and the instructors had failed to check her gear before setting out with her for Lake MacDonald.

The course was to be taught by Liston, described as having “hardly more experience” than his student, and newly certified instructor Snow, said to be unqualified to teach diving with a drysuit or at altitude, where reduced buoyancy can be an issue. Lake MacDonald has an elevation of 960m.

At the dive-site they were joined by two other trainees, Bob Gentry and a 14-year-old referred to as EG, both of whom had recently completed their drysuit training.

When the instructors realised that Mills’ air supply could not be connected to her drysuit, she was told to use her BC for buoyancy control. Twenty kilograms of lead was placed in Mills’ drysuit and BC pockets rather than on a releasable weight-belt. It is alleged that no briefings were given.

Entering the water at 5pm in failing light, Snow took Mills and EG to 5m for about five minutes. Snow brought EG back up because he was uncomfortable, failing to notice how much air had already been squeezed out of Mills’ drysuit. She returned and, with Liston, took Mills, Gentry and another student down to 18m.

Gentry’s chest-mounted GoPro footage is said to show Mills standing on a ledge struggling to breathe but too overweighted to ascend. Unable to get her instructor Snow’s attention, she signalled to Gentry for help, but as he swam over she overbalanced and started sinking rapidly.

Gentry caught up with her at 26m. She was showing signs of being crushed by her suit and he spent half a minute trying unsuccessfully to locate and release her weights to halt her descent, after which she lost her second stage. He tried to share his air but, in danger of running out, was forced to leave her at 32m and make a rapid ascent.

There was no surface cover but when Snow eventually surfaced she dived briefly to look for Mills, but failed to find her. On a later second dive, her body was found at 39m and brought up.

The lawsuit alleges that Jeannine Olsen told the coroner that a dive-buddy had witnessed Mills panicking before falling passively to the lakebed, but having shown no sign of difficulties at 12m. It also states that she had told Gentry, who has since become a friend of the Mills family, to say that he had been responsible for the fatality. It further states that the medical examiner had failed to note bruising caused by the drysuit squeeze.

The National Park Service was said to have conducted an investigation because Gull Dive had not been authorised to operate in the park, according to the Missoula Current, which ran the original report on the suit. An earlier legal action into another fatality in 2019 was ongoing against Gull Dive, but because the dive-school had failed to report the incident to PADI, Mills and her family would have been unaware of this.

PADI had submitted a document denying vicarious responsibility for Mills’ death, arguing that Gull Dive and its instructors were neither agents of nor employed by the agency. It argued that he disclaimer form signed by Mills before diving should have made it clear that PADI could not be held responsible should anything go wrong.

But the judge noted that PADI did exert some control over Gull Dive and its instructors by virtue of the phrase in its membership agreements: “Except as otherwise provided in this membership agreement…” and because Gull Dive and the instructors were contractually obliged to follow PADI’s standards and instructions.

Also, an instructor could be an “ostensible” agent of PADI if Mills believed that instructor to represent PADI because of PADI’s claims. The judge felt it would be for the jury to decide to what extent PADI could be held responsible for Mills’ death.

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Vincent
Vincent
4 months ago

Interesting case. I wonder how much responsibility the students bear in these cases. Of course the professionals are responsible for most part. But diving in an incomplete dry suite, no releasable weight, at some point the common sence of a student is supposed to kick in, imho.

Scott
Scott
Reply to  Vincent
4 months ago

You can always say that the diver/student is ultimately responsible for their own safety but a student doesn’t know what they don’t know. Until a student has passed certification the instructor is responsible for ensuring the student is safe along with checking and explaining the functionality of all the gear they are wearing. In my mind the instructor and dive shop were completely negligent here. The instructor should have known that the squeeze from the suit with no inflator would render her immobile at depth. I’m not a dry suit diver so I didn’t realize that until I read the initial story and had it explained by someone that is a dry suit diver.

Karen
Karen
Reply to  Scott
4 months ago

Agree, the instructor was not even certified to teach that specific specialty of drysuit. The instructor should have called this dive numerous times, but she continued, and Liston was not even an instructor nor a dive master, he had just gotten his advanced the day before. For the national park not to press charges on the instructor is ridiculous. Everything an instructor is taught she did it wrong on all accounts. Just sickening

Mike
Mike
Reply to  Scott
4 months ago

Did I read this right? Whomever manufactured the dry suit did not have a means to hook to a low pressure outlet to adjust for suit squeeze?

Tony F
Tony F
Reply to  Mike
4 months ago

No, the student had rented a reg set that didn’t have an inflator hose, and the second hand suit he bought didn’t come with a hose either.

Ronald Miller
Ronald Miller
Reply to  Tony F
4 months ago

Every modern regulator set has at least one inflator hose (for the BC). If you absolutely had to dive in a dry suit with only one inflator hose, it would be far better to hook it up to the instead of the BC. You can orally inflate a BC but can’t do anything to a without an inflator.

Tony
Tony
Reply to  Ronald Miller
4 months ago

Drysuit inflator connection is not normally the same size as the BC. On my drysuit the BC inflator hose will connect with excessive force, but it will pop off once I turn on the air.

Dora
Dora
Reply to  Tony
12 days ago

Nope, usually, they are exactly the same. Only some rare suits or older models have different hose connections. We don’t know what was the case here but it doesn’t make any sense to send someone in open water without previous training on the suit in confined water or no inflator hose

Nigel H
Nigel H
Reply to  Ronald Miller
3 months ago

Different valve fittings though

Timothy
Timothy
Reply to  Mike
3 months ago

There is such a thing as Sailing drysuits. Those don’t have inflators. I’ve seen other news sources imply it was one of those

Alec
Alec
Reply to  Timothy
2 months ago

There are stills from video footage that clearly shows it’s is a diving dry suit; that has no inflator hose connected.

carolyn wagner
carolyn wagner
Reply to  Mike
20 days ago

No the dive shop failed to provide the drysuit hose snd student had no prior training to know she need it. Everyone needs to read the whole lawsuit. Probably 25 mistakes made.I hate it…but probably criminal negligence

Steve taylor
Steve taylor
Reply to  Vincent
4 months ago

She probably had no idea of effect of suit sqeeze, suspect it didnt have dump valve either as probably not for diving. Instructor should have prevented dive. Also not being able to dump lead should also have stopped. she was a newby so instructor should have taken lead
Yet again PADI refusing to accept responsibility ability for a Padi centre

Raquel
Raquel
Reply to  Vincent
4 months ago

I cannot stress this enough. This by no means was the student fault or something that should have kicked for the student. Majority of the divers dive in warmish water where drysuit is not a think and that was the case of Linnea. furthermore the centre was aware of that and even then decided to sell a surface drysuit and not check with student not giving her directions. There is a reason why dive centre exist. To give guidance and instructions. This one failed to do so.

Luke Ryan
Luke Ryan
Reply to  Vincent
1 month ago

What complete and utter rubbish. I am employed as an HGV driving instructor, and a student who can drive a car cannot be expected to have the ‘common sense’ to know the exact set up and workings of an articulated vehicle, until shown by myself. I am completely responsible for their education and safety, not them. I am PADI Advanced (which means nothing, in the big scheme of things), but have not yet become dry suit qualified. I would not know which hoses I should or should not have, and I have a Masters degree, so I’m not stupid! My sincere condolences to the young lady’s family. May she rest in peace.

JP McQueen
JP McQueen
4 months ago

This is an absolutely tragic story and important for the diving industry to hear about and learn from. However why does Divernet have links to items for sale in such a dreadful story? You are trying to profit from a tragedy and it’s sickening!

Stacey minton
Stacey minton
4 months ago

This case is tragic and could have been avoided.
Reading the article the instructor and PADI are fully responsible. The key points are: Diving altitude requires instruction non given:.Allowing a student to dive a Dry suit without instruction, just purchased second hand, no inflator to prevent suit squeeze. Over weighting the Diver.: Instructor allowed diver to dive suit without an inflator and telling diver just to use your BC. I can go on and on. This case is a typical PADI contractor teaching out of a PADI dive shop. There are no checks and balances. I have seen this before, where no one wants to take responsibility and points fingers elsewhere. When is this going to end. Probably never! All PADI cares about is the $$ and that they are number 1. I know for a fact that complaints to PADI go unanswered. It would be great for someone to publish accidents / incidents by certifying agency, but we will never see that.

dON pOWELL
dON pOWELL
Reply to  Stacey minton
4 months ago

PADI Stands for put anothr dollar in. They are responsible.

Jesse Dube
Jesse Dube
Reply to  Stacey minton
4 months ago

First of all, PADI does not own the dive shop, nor are PADI instructors agents of the organization. PADI is nothing more than a document processing company, a guide on how to dive safely and teach diving safely. Saying that PADi is responsible, is like saying the state is responsible because a driving school instructor told a student to ignore speed limits and then was killed because of speeding during a class. Or the NRA is responsible for a member using a gun that killed someone. The fault is on both Gull Diver and the instructor. Gull for allowing the instructor to give the class while being uncertified to have students with a drysuit and the Instructor for not cancelling her dive when she saw there were no additional LP hoses for the Drysuit. I took all my classes in cold waters and became an instructor in such conditions. There was no reason for this to happen.

Marcus
Marcus
Reply to  Jesse Dube
4 months ago

This, this right here is spot on!!!

Benjamin
Benjamin
Reply to  Jesse Dube
3 months ago

While I agree with quite of bit of what you say, I disagree too. PADI does process papers, but more than that, they allow their name to be used to certify instructors. I am a certified firearm safety instructor, and not certified by the NRA, but the State of Minnesota. I am a member of the NRA, however. If I give false instruction or my actions lead to a death, the NRA is not responsible, the State of Minnesota is. These diving instructors are PADI certified instructors, which can make them liable, even with the disclaimer on the paperwork, just as the judge ruled.

In this case, neither instructor was certified to teach drysuit. PADI does not have a responsibility in this case. This was not a drysuit dive class. It was an Advanced Open Water class. One instructor was newly certified, and the other completed his Advanced Open Water class the previous day. This is all on the dive shop. In an area where drysuits will be used on a regular basis, the instructor should have a knowledge of the equipment people will be using.

As for PADI, since their name is used on the certification, they should have more checks and balances in place. It’s their name being used, not just on paperwork.

Timothy
Timothy
Reply to  Jesse Dube
3 months ago

The first thing that springs to mind is “Has PADI revoked the instructor status of the two instructors on this dive”.

PADI has had plenty of time to review the events of this dive and I haven’t met a dry-suit qualified diver would would have gotten into the water like that or would have dived with a buddy who had to kit config of Linnea Mills.
If PADI has not revoked the instructor certs then PADI are inherently saying this is acceptable. Further if PADI are still allowing instructors to self-cert as dry suit then they haven’t prevented this from happening again and that should leave them as liable.

PADI was earning money from this course, that alone should mean that they cannot completely distance themselves from ALL responsibility. When was the last time that PADI inspected Gull Dive? What reports were there and what were PADI doing about it? There was a death in 2019 per the article, why doesn’t PADI have a policy in place there they reach out to the local police where ever their centres are and say “Hey if there’s ever any incidents, no matter how minor we want to be made aware?” – Sounds like wilful ignorance to me considering the brand image that PADI has.

PADI are happy for instructors to say “I am a PADI instructor” and Dive Centres to say “This is a PADI Dive Centre”. To me this is like copy-write. In most parts of the world if a copy write is not defenced then it’s lost. PADI should be held to a similar “If you’re allowing people to claim your brand in marketing material, AND you are making money off that claim (some of the course fees go to PADI) then they shouldn’t be able to escape all liability”

Olof
Olof
Reply to  Jesse Dube
1 month ago

@Jesse, I completely agree. The only way PADI could be held responsible is if previous incidents with the dive shop were reported to them but not acted upon. However, from what I can see and read online no problems were reported to PADI prior to this tragic case. It is a mystery to me that an instructor can be as negligent as this. The extent to which standards were deviated from are beyond what most OW students would be capable of on a bad day.

K. Heller
K. Heller
4 months ago

Deeply negligent on the shop and instructor part. PADI instructor 20+ years now and have watched ‘standards’ get Disney-fied. Spend much of my time helping ‘certified’ divers learn to dive on our trips. 😒

Robert
Robert
4 months ago

Dry suit diving is a skill not easily learned. First time use, in my opinion, should be conducted in a controlled environment such as a pool. A dry suit requires the ability to let air in and out for safe use. It sounds like she had no way to put air into the dry suit which at depth kinda defeats its purpose. Cold water in and of itself is a pretty big stressor. Weighting is different. Your center of gravity changes. Don’t have all the evidence but if it had been me I wouldn’t have allowed my student to dive, given what we’ve been told up to this point. I’m a MSDT, an ex dive team member, and dry suit specialty instructor.

Jesse Dube
Jesse Dube
Reply to  Robert
4 months ago

As you know, the standard is to have the first dive be in a controlled environment, this shows the instructor was to blame.

Mohamed Ashraf
Mohamed Ashraf
4 months ago

Many places are like that in USA, make you sign some documents and say you already have a course from PADI, and just throw you in the water. They don’t care about people lives and they only care about charging you double for someone to dive with you , i once paid for that and they just gave me an un experience guy to take care of him instead on a boat trip. He had only three dives and they gave him a tank and told him jump. He finished his tank in 15 min. I took him back to the boat and promised never dive again in usa for all the stupid dive centers that doesn’t take care of their clients.

Jesse Dube
Jesse Dube
Reply to  Mohamed Ashraf
4 months ago

USA is a country that prides itself on being about ”individual rights and responsibility” what you are talking about would be what many more conservative people call ”communism”. But seriously, I have had to dive with newbies that ruined my dive also, as experienced divers had to dive with me when I was a newbie, that is the nature of the sport. And go pretty much anywhere in the Caribean islands, and you will get much worst. Type in stupid diver on youtube and you find some crazy dangerous practices. Dive in Canada is really safe. 🙂

PattyB
PattyB
4 months ago

As a driver, I cannot believe many things about this tragedy. To put a new diver in a dry suit without any training is negligence right there. To allow the diver to use the dry suit without a proper inflator hose is gross negligence. That suit starts squeezing you after 10′!!

To add insult to injury weighting her down without any means of quick release is another gross negligence.

The entire situation, including putting a new diver in a cold water environment that she has never dived, along with incomplete/non-functioning equipment, and basically in a pair of ‘cement shoes,’ was a perfect storm of gross negligence.

While PADI may not be directly responsible, they do have a responsibility for the instructors that act as their agents.

VERY sad and tragic.

PW F
PW F
4 months ago

This fatality unfortunately is no surprise.What else to expect from “PAID”??? Advanced Diver without any experience… instructors who kneel on the ground and goes on.

Hal Lomax
Hal Lomax
4 months ago

Not a recreational diver, but I have been a commercial diver since 75 and I have taught commercial divers. I see a lot that was done wrong here. It will be interesting to see if PADI is held liable and to what extent.

Peter Smith
Peter Smith
4 months ago

Any instructor tat allows a dive trainee to dive with a dry suit with no means of inflation has a fundamental misunderstanding of the need to be able to inflate the suit. Complete incompetence

Bruno
Bruno
4 months ago

The student was already an Open Water.. she should have know what to do, quick release belt and Dry suit training should be learn in a swimming pool first.. So she would have know that she need a inflator valve for her suit.. Student mistake all the way

Diver
Diver
Reply to  Bruno
3 months ago

Clearly you don’t know what you are talking about. Dry suit training isn’t part of Open Water Diver course. She couldn’t have known how to operate one and evidently even the instructor was clueless. The fact that the instructor *stuffed* her zipped pockets with 44lbs(!!!) of lead sealed her fate.

Are you suggesting that all students should be capable of spotting school and instructor incompetence and tell *them* about their mistakes?

If the instructor(s) don’t know how dangerous the conditions of Linnea’s dive were, how could she have known any better? If she should have know better, what does that say about the instructors who certainly are above Open Water level?!?

You can’t both argue it was student mistake when the instructor(s) stuffed her with excessive weight and told her to use the BCD instead of the dysfunctional Dry Suit, without also putting higher blame on the instructor(s). But you are clearly out of your depth…

Tina
Tina
3 months ago

My thoughts keep going to 20kg of lead. NOONE EVER DIVES WITH 20kg of lead!!! That’s 44lbs of lead! I dove with 16 lbs in a wet suit which is more buoyant. Her suit must’ve been a trilaminate or similar, which doesn’t even have buoyancy on its own without the air being added in. I’m not even dry suit certified but I read enough about it to KNOW that. This one is on the instructor and the dive center. But definitely would’ve been preventable with more research and self-education on the diver’s part also. But I couldn’t say that at 18, I knew or cared enough about this sort of thing. This is a call to every diver out there, especially newbies, to be more self-reliant and do their research to be prepared.

Olof
Olof
Reply to  Tina
1 month ago

20kg does indeed sound like a lot. However, a drysuit diver is way more buoyant than a wetsuit. Even if a trilaminate suit might be less buoyant than a wetsuit in itself, they are always combined with thick undergarments for insulation. I dive with 4-6kg lead in a 5mm wetsuit and 10-16kg in a drysuit (depending on undergarments, equipment, salt/fresh water and temperature).

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