Send Lawyers Guns & Money

Doria ChinaA few years ago, my friend Richie organized a trip to the Andrea Doria. This infamous Northeast wreck is a challenging dive by any standard you might apply, and the number of accumulated diving fatalities are in the double digits. It is not for everyone.  Richie properly vetted the divers accompanying him, and everyone understood the dangers.

On the second day of diving, one of the divers jumped off the dive boat, descended, and did not return. His buddy, who was on the anchor line, never saw the missing diver in the water. The USCG was notified by the dive boat captain, while Richie put together a recovery plan. If the diver was not going to be found on the surface by the USCG search, then it could be assumed he was dead on or near the wreck. There was nothing further to be done for a deceased diver at this point, other than for his fellow divers to try to find the missing diver's body, and provide some sort of closure for his family.

Rui PanelRecovering a body sucks. It is a sobering and somber act. Add to that the stress of a deep, dark and dangerous environment with currents, limited viz, and nothing to hang on to. It is not just challenging, it is dangerous. On a body recovery on the Doria, you are not sure if you are shivering because you are cold, or scared. Ultimately, the diver's body was found by Richie and another diver, in the sand away from the wreck, in 250' of North Atlantic water.

The coroner would later determine that the diver died of a heart attack, and then drowned. This is unusual for a diver less than 40 years old, and certainly a tragic loss for a young widow with three children. We can't help but wonder how things might have turned out differently, but they didn't, and life goes on. We all sympathize with the family as they continue without a husband and father. It is sad stuff, even when we don't personally know the diver and his family.

I guess the story could end here, but it doesn't. The family brought in a hired legal gun, who by the way knew nothing about diving, which apparently is an advantage? Guess what happened next?? They sued everyone. They sued the certification agency, they sued the instructor who also sold the diver his rebreather, they sued the dive boat, they sued the rebreather manufacturer. They sued everyone, including my friend Richie the trip organizer.  They even sued the History Channel because Richie at one time worked on a program for them, on the Andrea Doria!!

Now, I am not a lawyer but I assume they teach this stuff at law school, and call it by a secret Latin name, but I will call it the "shotgun approach". Then what happens, like you don't know already?? After the wild accusations, they want to settle with everyone for amounts of cash that are just a little less than the defendants cost of fighting the lawsuit. For anyone with insurance, the insurance company wants to settle because it is "cost effective", in spite of the fact that the defendant had absolutely, positively, nothing to do with the fatality.

U869 July 2 2007 011At this point, I think that most of us also assume, that the family will end up with little or nothing, while the sleazy lawyer collects the cash?? Does the plaintiff lawyer in these cases ever really place the welfare of the plaintiffs above themselves??

So, in this case the Instructor and his cost cutting insurance company settled for a 5 figure amount, apparently so the ambulance chaser can put gas in the car to chase another ambulance. Now, everyone was in court, and the defendants start dropping out of the case one by one. Some, the judge sends home because the allegations are too fake, and on others because the plaintiff legal team does not do their homework and get their legal papers in on time.

After 3 years of legal BS, Richie is the last man standing, and he is being sued for $16,000,000. Now, Richie had insurance, and that insurance was going to cover like the first $2,000,000 of any award. However, anything over that was going to have to be paid by Richie personally. He would be financially ruined, aside from all the stress. There was a lot on the line for him, and I am surprised that he did not have a heart attack??

Aside from all this, the case involved the Liability Release that the deceased diver signed. Basically, the family of the deceased diver claimed that any release, by any participant, was invalid. If they won the case on this point, Richie would be screwed, and you would never see a Liability Release again. You would most likely never see a dive boat again. Why would any operator take anyone diving, when he was totally responsible, to the tune of millions of dollars, for anything that happened to you, up to and including heart attacks, and any agreement to the contrary was unacceptable in court??? Diving as we know it would cease to exist, because of a sleazy lawyer who knows nothing about diving. Nice.

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Richie risked his life to recover the dead diver's body, in 250' of sand off the Doria for a family that was now determined to ruin his life. They attacked Richie both personally and professionally. The family alleged all sorts of stuff while they disposed of real evidence like the diver's dive computer. The last thing they wanted was any evidence. Their case was built on the suppositions, fabrications, and fantasies of non-divers, about diving.

Anyway, last week the family outright lost the case in a jury trial in Texas. Apparently the legal system worked? Go figure. I can't say that Richie won, because he didn't win anything other than an end to the nightmare this family and their hired gun tried to perpetrate on him, but only after tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses, and god knows how many sleepless nights. It is over, and Richie is openly grateful to his legal team. Who in that situation would not be?? Are there good lawyers, and evil lawyers??

Does anyone out there think this lawsuit is not total crap? Is there anyone who thinks this sort of legal BS is fair or just? Is there anyone out there who does not see this entire pathetic circus as wrong beyond belief?? Is there anyone out there who thinks they will ever get $16,000,000 out of Richie??

Now, we all know there are legitimate lawsuits. There are differences between parties, and one party can cause damages to another party, blah blah blah. If they can't work it out, then everyone steps back, cools down, and hires level headed attorneys to mediate the problems, or they go to court. That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about a lawsuit so baseless, and phony, they want us to believe that the History Channel was the cause of this guy's death? Seriously??? The History Channel?? Don't we all believe that this was just a scam to shake down the insurers?

Why do we tolerate these kinds of law suits where bullying, lying, and character assassination are so casually acceptable? Aside from victims like Richie, you and I pay for these crap lawsuits with higher insurance premiums and services. It is obviously unfair to just about any observer.

U869 July 2 2007 011Is the government going to help us?? We know that won't happen, don't we. Our lawyer legislators show no interest in curbing these out of control predators, so we are on our own.

So, what can we do while we wait for the revolution?? Now, I hope you never witness a diving fatality, but if you are ever involved in something like this, please collect as much documentation as you can. Write stuff down, take photos, shoot GoPro, use your phone, anything and everything. There is nothing an ambulance chaser hates worse than evidence.

No one can turn a phrase like the late, Warren Zevon. 🙂

Cheers,

 

 

 

61 Responses

  1. Jacobi
    Unfortunately this is life. I've been there where a lawyer is asking you questions trying to get you to mess up and undercut every bit of credibility you have when you know you did the right thing to the best of your ability. It sucks. All you can do is cross your t's and dot your i's and do the right thing. As long as you meet or exceed industry standards, regardless of the required law you should be in the clear. Just remember to always document everything ASAP and above all else do what's right. That's the best you can do.
  2. Chris Carpenter
    Spot on as usual. BTW, great song but I think Meatloaf did it better :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga_k44Lqs60
    • John Chatterton
      Although Meatloaf is an icon, and he was amazing in the Spice Girls Movie, plus he does an excellent rendition of this WZ classic, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with you. Zevon rocks it better, but many thanks for taking the time to share your opinion. :)
      • Chris Carpenter
        No doubt, Zevon is a great choice!
  3. Andrew Teal
    John - lawsuits like this happen because win or loose, often the lawyer still gets paid and because companies would rather settle than fight. It's no mistake that those that make the laws (Congress) tend to also be lawyers. IMO it's a conflict of interest and were I despot for a day - it's the first thing I would change. While I understand the desire of insurance companies to settle for little amounts instead spending the legal fees I have to wonder about that wisdom. It's the death of a 1000 paper cuts. I'd hope they've done a cost/benefit analysis of always settling and spending millions of dollars in settlements over many cases every year versus spending millions of dollars on ONE case to crush all comers and never have to deal with it again. And perhaps someone can explain something for me - those companies usually have in-house counsel or a retained counsel, if you're paying an in-house guy's salary already, what does it matter if he's fighting or settling? If the guy isn't good enough to win against frivolous suits like this - why is he on the staff?
    • In this case, David Colcannon was the lead litigator for the defense. In other cases it might be Hruska, Lessor, or any number professional diving lawyers who may also be rebreather experts, instructional gurus or other diving experts. In-house council is mostly relagated to doing the dog's share of the work to prep for trial, but the insurance company hires a gun to crush the plaintiff.
  4. Jan Hutchens
    Predation is exactly the way to describe this behaviour. Predation by the lawyers who feed off the grief and anger that the family are experiencing and in their greed convince them to behave irrationally. These actions screw the family (the honor and integrity of their lost loved one and themselves are forever damaged because they bought into this charlatan's act) as well as uncountable numbers of other people. For one thing, it will probably screw the rest of us out of the chance to go on adventures of our own. Pretty soon the experts who have been willing to organize and guide people through these experiences either won't be willing to do it because of the possibility of being sued (and I know that's already reality), or will charge so much to (understandably) cover their liability that the average Joe won't be able to afford to go. What gets me about these lawsuits is that every moment of a human being's life we are taking risks. Every morning when that diver walked out his front door the chances of something fatal happening to him were right there. Should we then sue the manufacturer of our front doors because we walked out of them into the big, bad world? That would make just as much sense as this situation. My condolences to Ritchie for his having to go through this.
  5. Tom Pritchard
    I'm not a lawyer and I understand the frustration of fair-minded folks when frivolous lawsuits are filed, esp. those that blanket everybody connected in any way to the incident. I get it. For those who would like to pass a law that would ban frivolous lawsuits, I ask, "How can someone determine when a lawsuit is frivolous before the case is laid out in court?" In this case, it is possible there was a manufacturer defect in the unit. Or that the boat or trip leader did something negligent that resulted in the death. There are many "what ifs" that could be true. In this case, they weren't true or they were dismissed for jurisdiction etc.), so the case was settled in Richie's favor. That was the correct ruling, but there was no way anyone could know before the trial that at least some of these other possibilities were not valid. Sadly, MOST of the time it is only clear in retrospect that a lawsuit was frivolous. So I ask, "How would one draw up guidelines that would identify a frivolous lawsuit before the facts were gathered and heard in court?"
    • Mark Myers
      Tom - Do you recall the "Personal Trainer" who sued me several years ago? Claimed that because 50 out of 5000 tapes she purchased - and left sit in her garage for 4 years - were faulty, that she was due to have the entire amount of her production returned. Her lawyer told me that "everyone is entitled to representation" which is true. My response was that a principled professional would tell their clients when their case is bogus and refuse to take it. We ended up settling, for the many reasons listed above - and the only ones that made any money were the lawyers. I was out of pocket many thousands of dollars defending the suit - and she made barely enough money to cover her legal expenses. This is why the legal profession has such a bad image.
  6. Mark Myers
    When my brother died in a scuba accident, I was amazed by the number of people who asked if I was going to start filing lawsuits. Who would I sue? I owned the shop that trained him, hired the instructors, setup the diving group. Some of his, and my, best friends participated in the recovery, and they are the most careful, expert divers I know. Diving is still a dangerous sport, despite certification agencies efforts to convince the public otherwise. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it's no one's fault. Now, if you really want to get me going, ask me about the buffoons at the PA State Police, and Navy Experimental Dive Center who "investigated" the incident without any knowledge of the dive environment, or the rebreather equipment being used.
    • Mark, I love your comment, because what you say is simple truth. Diving *is* potentially dangerous, but all to often that is glossed over. I'm sorry for your loss, and you show great strength.
  7. Ed
    Combine a tendency for our culture to no longer accept personal responsibility for our actions with a profession who profits regardless of the outcome and you unfortunately end up where we are. My belief is that if baseless lawsuits could be found liable for the defense legal costs this would occur far less frequently.
  8. Kevin Beebe
    I have been following both yours and Richies pages, so I had read about this on Richies page. I must first say that I feel bad that a diver has lost his life. I once had an instructor who said to me that the old saying that "he died doing what he loved to do" was bullshit. He hoped that he would die peacefully in his sleep, there was no way he wanted to die doing what he loved to do (diving). I took those words to heart and what they meant to me was that I must do all I can do to ensure that I always be prepared and dive safely. But I also completely understand that what I do (diving) is also dangerous. That's not to say that this diver was not prepared or safe, but I can't believe that he did not accept that what he was doing was not dangerous. It's too bad that the family and the lawyer did not share his understanding. I don't know that I will ever have the opportunity to do tech, but I would be honored to one day dive with either you or Richie. Both would be awesome!
  9. Lawyers:liars is not a new turn of phrase. Predators come in all stripes but lawyers have made it an art form.
  10. Steve Davis
    Hi John, a sad story compounded by a ridiculous system. I hate being one to say our system is better as no system is perfect but in New Zealand this does not happen. The reason is we have a NZ Government run system called the Accident Compensation Commission or ACC. All employers contribute to this system a little like US Worker's Compensation. Without going into detail, the legislation that established ACC allows for payments to the injured or dependents for accidents including lump sum payments and loss of earnings. It also removes the ability to sue for personal injury or death in NZ. There is scope to sue for "exemplary damages" but this is not common and the system effectively removes any market for "ambulance chasing lawyers". The system suffers under its own weight and the payments are not huge, hence my comment nothing is perfect. I love the fact however, that there is compensation for real loss and no scope for lawyers to get involved unless there is a real case to answer. I hold out no hope that this will ever become a part of the US system (I live in CA) but I raise it here so that your readers know that there is an alternative. Cheers and thanks for the post.
  11. David Mahony
    I have been involved with "extreme" sports for quite some time now. I have been lucky and am still alive to tell the tales of adventure and I don't know anyone personally that has died on one of these adventures. I know my own death is a possibility and I can't vouch for how my family members would respond in such an event. Because of this, I have several clauses in my will that will prevent such a lawsuit. Specifically, I forbid any family members from sueing others on the trip, the trip organizers, the club that organized the trip or, in some cases, the property owners (I should add dive shops and boat captains). Hopefully this will prevent this type of nightmare from happening to those that I dive with.
  12. Richard
    Unfortunately, this kind of baseless lawsuits go on every single day of the year throughout the good Ole USA!! Congratulations ambulance chasing attorneys for muddying the waters and making the facts so unclear that companies do settle out-of-court just to avoid a long trial. I have worked in law enforcement for over 24 years in the metro Atlanta area, and have seen and heard of some crazy lawsuits filed in civil court, which a prudent individual, would never have thought possible as a lawsuit. This is one of the problems with our country in letting these kind of lawsuits even get into court. As a diver, I know the dangers involved and hope on each dive I don't come across a bad situation, just as I do in my job as a LE officer. Yes, if someone screwed up and caused my death, then by all means, I want my family to deal with it. If my death was due to a health issue or my own fault, then leave my friends (instructor, co-divers, co-workers) alone and not blame them.
  13. I'm glad I'm at the otter site of the Atlantic. We've a completely different legal system in which something like this is almost impossible. And I thinking the laywers here have more common scènes. Even in a case of a diving accident like this no one will thinking of sueing this way!
  14. Jim Pinson
    John I wholeheartedly agree with you. In my opinion there should be one more step in the trial. After a case is dismissed the judge and or jury should be required to reflect on the merits of the case and if they find it ungrounded there should be a penalty awarded to the plaintiff. That might stop a few of the frivolous lawsuits. I have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with more than one diving fatality one of which ended in lawsuits. One of the others came out much different. I met the diver’s widow and some of his friends I had never met. Instead of lawsuits we mourned together and became friends. We live 10 time zones apart and don’t really interact much but I feel I know them. Richie is one of the late diver’s friends that I only met because of the fatality. He did not hold anyone involved responsible. If I check out on a dive I hope my friends and family follow my instructions and hold no one but me responsible. Cheers, Jim
  15. Richard Taylor
    Totally agree John. Absolutely BS case. You have ask at what point does a claim become vexatious and oppressive and when should the claimant, and their legal representatives, be held liable for the trauma and damages they inflict?
  16. Chris Carpenter
    Is it not possible for Richie to counter-sue for damages...in this case the expense of his legal defense?
  17. September Foy
    I am a lawyer. I am also a diver. It is sad that there are those out there that make a mockery out of the legal profession which was once highly respected. I can only apologize for those that blindly chase after money without regard to morality of what they are doing or the lives they are affecting. I can only say, that there are those of us out there that went into the legal profession to actually make a positive difference in this world. I do not make much money, but I sleep well at night knowing I am, hopefully, doing the right thing in my cases. I am not fortunate to make a career out of diving, but I hope to someday defend those that do. I'm glad Richie had a good team by his side!
  18. Ron Murray
    Two words - loser pays. That would end most of the frivolous suits.
  19. Mark Farrell
    I can't remember all of the details, but I recall President Reagan was attempting to get a law passed that would force the plaintiff to pay all of the legal fees if they lost a case like this. Obviously a congress full of lawyers didn't like this idea so the law never came to fruition. A law like this would end a lot of frivolous lawsuits because too many lawyers will work this type of case knowing that they'll probably make enough to cover their expenses because the insurance companies are so quick to settle out of court.
  20. Sean
    I am so glad that Ritchie and everyone else came out of that on the good side. I was a police officer for over a decade and I was sued more times than I can count and called in to court a thousand times more than that. Sometimes it was legit reasons but more often than not it was total ridiculousness because no one can accept responsibility for their actions anymore and society is full of blood sucking dirtbags and shady lawyers. I'm happy to finally see the judicial system work for the good guys. I love reading your blogs and following you and Ritchie. I can only dream and wish to be the divers that you guys are and some day meet you all. Keep doing what you do, it's great stuff!!!
  21. William Graham
    I am an attorney and also a CCR/cave/wreck diver. I agree that we all undertake this kind of diving knowing the risks. I can also tell you that you've got no control over what your family does when you're no longer here. I'd certainly hope that my family would respect my feelings and not sue my friends! I have never looked at this lawsuit and I'm not sure what the precise claims were, but maybe I can shed some light on why the system is the way it is. There isn't one body of law that applies to scuba accidents that's different from that applied to every other kind of accident. Product liability law, where the claim is that something was manufactured incorrectly, developed with the industrial revolution. There's always been a public policy in favor of holding manufacturers responsible for injuries caused by products that have design or manufacturing defects. If they were insulated from liability, there'd be no incentive to make safer products, and if you think the government is going to look after that, you're nuts. A good example of how this works was the litigation involving the exploding tires brought against Firestone and other manufacturers. The problem was brought to light by the lawsuits and the combined pressure brought about huge safety improvements in the industry that may have never happened voluntarily. So, to take this cumbersome mechanism and apply it to scuba accidents, where you're participating voluntarily, is nuts, I agree. I haven't looked in on the law of liability releases recently but the last time I did, the cases mostly came out of accidents in gyms and some held that a release jammed under someone's nose in connection with a gym membership was not valid under certain circumstances. Again, the public policy consideration there is to protect the unsophisticated consumer from being taken advantage of and this is a far different situation than technical diving, where you're assuming the risk. Hope this helps and I'm sorry for anyone who gets caught in this type of situation. Bill
  22. bill reals
    A similar situation happened to me when I was 19 years old. I was in a traffic accident where a man in front of me and unfortunately died as a result of the accident. I was exonerated by the police due to the evidence ,the police even personally came to my house the next day to tell me so. I got dragged into court three years later and spent 2 weeks of hell where they tried to personally rip me apart and threaten me with financial ruin. The funny thing is the night before the trial startedmy lawyer who was provided by insurance try to settle with an out-of-court the other lawyer was so confident in this case that he told my lawyer to p*** off after two weeks in court listen to all the evidence tthe juror came back in less than 15 minutes with the ruling in my favor . My insurance company turn around and sued the family for the insurance costs, nobody won the day. I'm glad everything worked out for Richie. But we need serious tort reform in this country.
  23. JC, Thanks for posting this blog about my experience, and to everyone who has shared their support and thoughts. It is unnerving to KNOW you have done nothing wrong, and be required to sit silent whilst the plaintiff’s attorney spins his tale of half-truths and outright lies; all the time thinking your fate is in the hands of twelve jurors. The burden of proof was on the plaintiff to prove their case against me, and our job was to refute every bogus claim and assertion with fact, evidence, witness and expert testimony. I was fortunate to have a legal team well experienced in technical diving and with prior diving accident litigation experience. I have done my dangerous things in my life, but never has my heart beaten so hard as when the jury came back with a verdict and I stood before the court, waiting to hear the judge read it out. RK
  24. William Graham
    On "loser pays legal fees" -- the reason we don't have prevailing party attorney's fees in all cases is because then the little guy could NEVER take on the big bad corporation--the chance of losing and being on the hook for millions would prevent anyone from bringing a lawsuit against, say, Monsanto.
  25. Dan Lenihan
    John, That's an articulate and convincing statement. In you, Richie has a good friend. Dan Lenihan
  26. Bill Hackbarth
    Sorry Richie went through all this. It's time for Constitutional Amendment to ban lawyers from being legislators. Want to serve in Congress? Give up your law license. You can retake the Bar once you leave office. Wonder how fast it will take to get meaningful tort reform then?
    • Shannon M. Caraccia
      So....who should be writing laws? Plumbers? Bus Drivers? No offense to either of these groups...but seriously? Who should do it?
      • John Chatterton
        Someone who does not have a conflict of interest. Lawmakers have a rich history of self service, at the expense of the masses. IMHO JC
      • As long as it takes money to run for congress, congress will continue to be 100% corrupt and lawyers thrive in a corrupt environment. It is that simple. Raphael Santore
  27. Greg Buxton
    Hi John, Great to know Richie is in the clear now. I fully agree with your sentiments, but I have a thought for you too. There was a fatality in Fiji about 2 1/2 years ago. You can find various reports on the net easily enough, written by other divers on the trip. I wasn't there btw. Having talked to some crew, and 3 of the divers, it seems very likely that the operator has at least some liability in this case. OK, that's just my view. The woman was an Australian on holiday. What happened here?... Absolutely nothing. The operator continued diving the very next day. The H&S inquiry concluded it was an accident, based on testimony from the operator and crew. As far as I know, attempts by the victims family to start an action in Fiji, have failed, and their requests for a more thorough investigation, gone unheeded, or at last unactioned. Now on balance, I much prefer the system here, but beware what you wish for in case it comes to pass. Safe diving. Greg
  28. Scott
    Just recently a lawsuit brought on by the wife of Wes Skiles, who died diving was dismissed. The defendant is right here in our backyard. I have not researched the case at all, but if you would like to comment John, what are your thoughts regarding this case?
    • John Chatterton
      I do not know any of the particulars either, so I would not feel comfortable commenting, but Wes was a dedicated professional. JC
    • n2diving
      Just to clear up one misconception, mentioned previously. As of June 2013, the Skiles case has not been dismissed entirely. Only one of the defendants has been dismissed, the Skiles case continues against several other defendants.
      • John Chatterton
        Which is not unlike the way Richie's case went. Thanks for the clarification. JC
  29. George
    This is another example of a legal system that does not have recourse for the "losing" side. In most European legal systems the loser pays all court expenses including the court's. That makes any lawyer think twice before frivolous or "crap shoot" style lawsuits like this one. Insurance companies have made these types of incidents even worst by settling cases even frivolous just at the expense of cost savings from fighting them. Afterall they can pass that cost to their clients without an objection...
  30. Hunter
    Jon... I'm absolutely stoked to hear that Ritchie came away from this with no additional grief or expense added to the *#@tpile that he had already endured. Attorneys are like everyone else...good'ns abd bad'ns. Too bad really that the system hasn't figured a way to make sure that actual justice is served rather than a payoff. My thanks to Ritchie for fighting the good fight and standing up tall for all of us. Back in the day..80s and early 90's, a good partner and myself ran many charters up to BC and without naming the operator.... those were really the days. Undiscovered sites, serious high current drift dives, cowboy diving and some serious post dive extra curricular activities if you know what I mean. Sometime I wander how we ever lived through those days... but we did and no-one ever got hurt or sued.. Just lucky I guess, plus there just seemed to be more honor in general back then. Now that I've "mellowed" and times have changed, I am much more reserved and cautious about what I say and do. When the wife and I go on trips, I NEVER flash my instructor card or even mention it.. Just my good ol'e ADV and Nitrox cards is all they get to see or know about....and it always amazes me just how many folks chat up their entire resume on the boat.. which to me is saying..."if anyone has a problem you can just sue me." Wife and I just shut-up and dive. Once in the water the operators and DM's know who is real and who is full of it.
  31. Hunter
    One more thing John..... Thanks again to you and Ritchie for the best damn book (Shadow Divers) I've ever read.... Not just best diving book.... BEST BOOK!!!
    • John Chatterton
      As much as Richie and I would love to take credit for the popularity of Shadow Divers, people love the book because of the talent, and hard work, of Rob Kurson. :)
      • Bob
        John, I own an insurance agency and, in my spare time, am a tech diver. This is a mockery of how both out legal system and insurance companies seem to work now but it happens all of the time. I wish I had known about it sooner, I would have been following it. I have a lot of respect for both you and Richie. Thank God that at least one time justice prevailed, in some way. You are correct in that there is no winner. It took a chunk out of Richie both financially and mentally. I've been there myself once and with my clients several times. I'm divorced with no children. I have left strict instructions with my parents, that in the event of a diving accident, they will not sue anyone. If I die underwater, it is because I took a risk and lost. It is no one's responsibility but my own. Very well written blog. Bob
      • Mitch Scott
        Sorry John.cant let this one slide by.Of course the way you guys are you're not going to take credit for the success of the book.thats part of your charm.but for me the best part of the book,aside from all the exciting diving and adventure,was the way you approach your life.your passion and commitment.Both you guys are outstanding but without you at the heart of the story,I don't think the book would be half as popular as it is.no offense to Richie or Kurson.not to sound corny but I felt uplifted just reading about your exploits and secretly wishing I knew people of your caliber.
  32. Adrian
    While you are all bashing lawyers, some of us are trying to stand up against the real evil. As for the comment that lawyers should not be legislators, it is usually the non-lawyer legislators that are the most incompetent. http://rt.com/usa/foreclosure-america-employees-bank-946/
    • Bob
      Adrian, there are good and bad lawyers. Some fight for good and put evil people away. Others have to defend them, even if they don't want to. Still there are ambulance chasers that make my life hell and cost my clients a lot of money, be it directly on in having to make court appearances for something that they were not liable for. Yet insurance companies still give in due to cost of defense and attorneys jump on that fact. Either way, the only ones that make any real money are the attorneys. Again, I want to stress that I am not "anti-lawyer" but there are some really bad apples in an honorable profession, just as there are in my profession as as an insurance agent.
    • John Chatterton
      Adrian, There may be some lawyer bashing here, but the people who are paying for these abuses are frustrated. The real question is who is responsible for these cases, like Richie's? Is it the plaintiffs who file for these lawsuits, is it the system that allows them to do what they do the way they do it, or is the problem ethically challenged lawyers? How can we fix things, if we don't know where the problem lies? As for our legislators, there are very few who are not lawyers, and as a whole they do a crappy job of representing us, and a great job of enriching themselves. Which ones are better? None of them. The bottom line is the problems we have with BS lawsuits is not being addressed by anyone. Thanks for your insight. JC
  33. AXOP
    Horrible, wrong and economically destructive. Ever wondered why millions of jobs get lost overseas ? Product liability and frivolous lawsuits leave manufact. no choice. Why re-invent the wheel, why don't we implement a law which works very well the most successful countries of the west: If you sue and loose: You automatically pay 100% of others party legal expenses, incl. his time, interest etc.
    • Hunter
      Unfortunately, it's not as simple as "if you sue ,you lose and pay all costs." In many cases, lawsuits involve regular folks going up against corporations or insurance companies with in house legal teams and enormous financial resources. The "little" person cannot afford to risk a loss. ....even if he or she is 100% in the right. Corporations already have to pay if they lose. So....in a "loser always pays" system, the corporations would ultimately benefit because their would be far less law suits.... in my opinion. The problem here is the involvement of insurance companies. Most of them don't give a rats ass about people or justice. It's all about risk assessment, profit, loss, bottom line. In this case, I think Richie had a strong case and so his insurance co assessed the risk, calculated the odds and chose to roll the dice in the courtroom crapshoot. Glad they did.
    • Tom Pritchard
      Nobody like product liability lawsuits, but everyone wants safe toasters, automobiles, cribs, child car seats, etc. Manufacturers might - or might not - sell safe products. Product liability lawsuits provide an external incentive for product safety. Yes, some product liability lawsuits are frivolous; others increase product safety. When greedy people enlist greedy lawyers, the courts must settle the issue - and sometimes innocent people lose. The judicial system isn't perfect. Blame greed.
  34. I am a lawyer and a cave diver in Florida. My husband owned a dive shop for 9 years and I served as his attorney. This case is very sad indeed and the description of the widow's attorneys does not represent how most attorneys operate. This does highlight the importance of having your liability releases reviewed by an attorney before having dive customers sign them. Each state has its own statutes and case law which can impact which parts of the waiver are enforced. As a general rule, liability waivers with general, broad language may not be enforced. Most states have statutes or cases which spell out the acceptable language for liabiity releases. It can vary by industry and it's usually more stringent regarding injuries to minors. An ounce of prevention, such as hiring an attorney on the front end to make sure your liability waiver is as robust and defensible as possible, can make those frivolous lawsuits go away more quickly. Furthermore, in the federal rules of civil procedure, and in most states such as Florida, there are specific rules that provide for sanctions against parties who file frivolous lawsuits. Invoking those rules can be very effective at deterring a plaintiff with weak or no facts in support of his or her case. Furthermore, if the case had ever gone to a jury, the jury (in almost every jurisdiction) would have been given a "spoliation" instruction that they could infer that the widow had something to hide by destroying the dive computer. I agree that facts and evidence win cases. Good record keeping can be an important part of a good defense. Enforcing the existing rules is the job of the judges, not the legislators. Some insurers need a push from their insureds not to be too anxious to pay a settlement. Speaking of insurance, there is now insurance that businesses can buy, "contract litigation insurance," which protects them from paying an award of fees under a "prevailing" party clause. This can be another way to protect you in a fight against a frivolous suit.
  35. Ralph M. Bishop, MD
    Unfortunately, the way of the world today, especially in the lawyer-saturated USA, is: "It is always someone else's fault." Nobody wants to take personal responsibility. I have been diving since 1959, and have gotten in a few jams, but only because of my own stupidity or hubris. I just settled a BS lawsuit by a notorious malpractice attorney on behalf of his daughter. It costs little or nothing to sue someone, aand these SOB's will persue any case, no matter how frivolous. I feel bad for Ritchie!
  36. After reading this, I guess is pretty clear to all of us, what was the real tragedy of this family. Certainly not the loss of a husband, or a father, but the loss of the lawsuits that was supposed to bring them a fortune. We all make our insurances, but we pray to God that we/our families never need to collect it. I am working at a dive shop, Dipndive .com and the first thing I say to those interested to enroll at any kind of courses is to make the insurance , but to be aware of the fact that no insurances , once or ever, can compete with prudence/responsibility and of course , a proper training. Otherwise, it happens just like in this case, here, when a man dies because of he's stupidity, (he went solo, in a known dangerous place) and all that family cares for is making a fortune from the work of others.
  37. John Camp
    I only just stumbled across the original post, and while reading it I realized immediately that I knew the lost diver. For someone to perish practicing a sport we love is heard breaking. Much like the loss of the father son team in Eagle's Nest over the holidays it makes me stop and think. Who knows what's to come of that yet. But the original blog post is spot on target. Thanks for writing it. Sport diving has no friends in personal injury practice. I am glad Richie fought it and prevailed.
  38. […] I was curious. Here is what I found, and just in case I am not the only one who did not know: Send Lawyers Guns & Money I trust John Chatterton's account to be reliable. […]
  39. […] I was curious. Here is what I found, and just in case I am not the only one who did not know: Send Lawyers Guns & Money I trust John Chatterton's account to be reliable. markm To finish that story that Chatterton […]
  40. That is a really well written piece, John. I'd like to think that somebody sensible will read it and give more earnest consideration to tort reform in the U.S., and then at least something positive might come out of a tragedy turned into a farce. But sadly I suspect that is unlikely to happen.
    • John Chatterton
      Actually, after Richie won his case outright, the plaintiffs appealed the decision and his final dismissal was adjudicated only a week or so ago. It lasted years, and it was total BS. As a dive instructor I carry insurance, like Richie did. My dive instructor insurance company recently notified me that they are no longer going to offer any insurance for dive instructors or divemasters. The risk to them is apparently too high. I can only assume it is because of baseless cases like this. Phony lawsuits like this one, cost all of us, and I am all for tort reform. Who will carry the banner for tort reform, our legislators (who are all lawyers)?? Probably not.
  41. I'm a lawyer, but I could never do this kind of legal work because it makes me sick. I wrote and negotiated contracts for a living, in aerospace and for a city. Everyone left happy. My boss in aerospace once told me that we don't sue the suppliers who default because then everyone loses--instead, we help them get their business in order, fix problems on production lines, and catch up on deliveries because then we have a grateful, productive subcontractor and we have what we need to build airplanes. Win/win. There are lots of lawyers like this--good people you won't find in court. Lawyers are tools. Seriously. They don't sue for themselves--they have no standing to chase defendants around suing them. It's non-lawyers who actually sue! It was that man's awful family who hired that lawyer to do their nasty work. He filed a form complaint. And he had to sue everyone that could possily be involved (and deep pockets must be named even if it's far-fetched) or it's malpractice....because lawyers used to name just those who looked responsible at the start at the start of cases, and then facts developed that others were at fault, or they had no money, and the lawyers who had not sued everybody in sight got sued themselves. Now they sue everyone, esp "deep pockets." My gripe with the legal system is that, like politics, it's the playfield of the rich. Trial lawyers, like divorce lawyers, have no clue the value of a dollar. They sue everyone as though it's not a big deal (because to them it's not), as though it won't ruin the lives of the people dragged into it for decades to come. They sit in highrises and jot notes to charge clients $280 for a single phone call the client never asked to receive (It's called "padding" the bill and their managing partners demand it.) They become so isolated from the world of real people--huge corporations just write-off the costs, and everyone winks at one another's crazy bills. Real people have no place in this world. Anyone who ever had to hire a divorce lawyer because a spouse sued for divorce instead of working it out mutually knows that the divorce is final the day your house is sold and every dime has been used up by the 2 lawyers involved. I wonder if we need a 2-tier legal system, one for people, and another for corporations, banks and insurance companies to sue each other. They'd have to play by our rules in our system. Unfortunately, fixing these things is NOT what "tort reform" means. Tort reform actually means that regular people get further thrown out of the legal system. If someone hurts you--say your Pinto exploded and you sue Ford. They spend millions defending the suit, and the first people inevitably lose until an employee leaks documents showing the company knew it could happen and decided a few lawsuits were cheaper than a fix. Tort reform says the plaintiff who loses must reimburse the defendant the costs of the lawsuit--well, no regular guy can pay the lawyers hired by multi-national corporations, Wall Street, or even the jerk who dumps toxic waste in the river and makes the kids at the pre-school violently ill. Tort reform does not ever address the costs of lawsuits, the time they take out of our lives, or minimize tangentially-related people from being sued just because they have insurance or "deep pockets." Tort reform just includes stuff saying you cannot sue a doctor for more than a tiny amount that barely covers medical expenses for a year, when you have a child with cerebral palsy because a drunk doctor screwed up, or removed the wrong foot... They limit recovery to $250,000 even when families prove the doctor was grossly negligent. So guess who pays the bills after "tort reform?" Did you guess taxpayers? Tort reform reforms the system to protect the wealthy--insurance companies, huge corporations. I never yet saw any provision that protects regular people in any tort reform law. It's like every other law we see--1984 doublespeak that does the opposite of what it's called. "Patriot Act" takes away our constitutional rights that those patriots fought and died for. So if you see a Tort Reform Law, please read it carefully. Ask what effect it will have--one of their favorite stunts is to include provisions that basically prevent any lawyer from taking certain types of cases by limiting their pay to nothing, while letting opposing counsel (for the big corporations, or the government) charge whatever they want! I have seen those and they are tricky. If no lawyer represents people who sue polluters, or sue the govt, etc, then they can do what they want.... Those terrible trial lawyers sometimes save us from even worse fates. We need a few of them. Just not the jerk who sued your friends--and the worse jerks who hired that lawyer... Shame on people who hire lawyers to do things that are horrible. Once that family knew their loved one died of a heart attack, they should have mourned instead of lashing out at those who only provided him the hobby he loved. That was a failure of humanity as much as the legal system. People abuse the system and everyone when they sue others for things that can't be avoided--which that jury certainly explained to them in language they understand. Should the family have to reimburse everyone's legal fees? THAT is a tort reform idea. It sounds good in egregious cases, but what if someone did negligently contribute to someone's death, but the lawyer failed to convince enough jurors? If someone is right but loses by a vote? Not only would people in the right be afraid to sue, no lawyer would risk it. If you were in the right--someone killed your spouse, but they were rich, they'd hire a team of very high-priced attorneys....would you risk suing? Do we want murderers to get a free ride? How to protect the right to sue when right, but punish those who abuse the system?
  42. I have testified in suites like this myself and I can say there are some Honest Christian Lawyers out there who do dive. One of them lives close to you. If is a dam shame the losers should have pay the plaintiffs expenses on a deal like this, but as long as we keep electing lawyers to political office it will not change.
  43. I work for a dive shop, who is contracted to provide 2 divers a day at a quarry local to me. The 6 of us have Rescue, advanced rescue, DAN dfa, and oxygen provider training at a minimum. Reading your blog gives me further insight to what to expect (possibly) in the event of a rescue/recovery situation. With over 800 people swimming on some weekend days (as well as heavy drinking involved by participants) we see our fair share of minor mishaps, but the quarry owner feels like his waiver is a safety blanket in my eyes. I know that if I was to see someone drowning or injured in the water, my instinct would take over, and I would do whatever it takes to bring them from harms way. It is sad to think that when you do so, you become a target for these bottom-feeding, low-life, money-sucking bastards who play someone's grief for a paycheck. John, what is your opinion on the quarry sub-contracting rescue work (glorified lifeguards), and your outlook on our boundaries?
    • John Chatterton
      If there is a serious accident or fatality, it is going to suck for all involved. Period. A Liability Release, or Waiver will not protect anyone from being sued. I am not a lawyer, but if you screw up, and at least in part you cause someone to be hurt, you can be held liable. A release is not a Get Out of Jail Free Card, it has limitations. Then again, you can be sued even if you do absolutely nothing wrong. So, a Release is good to have, it is good to inform participants of inherent dangers, and it is good to have a legal understanding, but anyone can sue anyone for anything. When there is a fatality, it is bad for everyone. It is better to prevent a fatality, than manage the fallout. IMHO, there is limited risk in any job where you are paid to provide safety services.

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