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Jury Rejects $25 Million Wrongful Death Lawsuit

National Geographic cinematographer Wes Skiles death not caused by equipment failure

Wes Skiles, July 21, 2010

On Friday, May 20, 2016, a jury in Palm Beach County, Florida rejected a $25 million claim that the firm’s client, Lamartek, Inc., d/b/a Dive Rite, caused the death of National Geographic cinematographer Wes Skiles. 

 

Skiles died while filming underwater on July 21, 2010.  His widow, Terri Skiles, claimed that a design defect in the Dive Rite O2ptima FX closed circuit rebreather that Skiles had borrowed to use on the dive caused the rebreather to malfunction and stop delivering oxygen, causing him to lose consciousness and drown.  Mrs. Skiles also claimed that Lamartek did not properly test its products before delivering them to consumers, and the company failed to warn users of a dangerous defect in the O2ptima.

 

Lamartek countered that there was no evidence of either a defect or a malfunction of the rebreather, and it thoroughly tests its products.  Instead, Skiles died because he was not trained or certified to use the O2ptima rebreather, the rebreather was not maintained properly, Skiles misused the rebreather, he violated numerous safety rules common to scuba diving, and he had taken both Hydrocodone and Ambien prior to the fatal dive. 

 

After a 2.5-week trial, the jury deliberated for just 4 hours before finding that Lamartek was not negligent for failing to test its products, the O2ptima was not defective, and Lamartek did not fail to warn consumers of a defect in the O2ptima.

 

Mrs. Skiles was represented Robert Spohrer (a relation by marriage) of Spohrer & Dodd in Jacksonville, Florida; John Romano of the Romano Law Group in West Palm Beach, Florida; and Dustin Herman of Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber in Cleveland, Ohio.  Her liability expert was Alex Deas, Ph.D., of Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Lamartek, Inc. was represented by David Concannon and Matthew Charles of Concannon & Charles of Wayne, Pennsylvania; and Christopher Lanza of Miami, Florida.