Thursday, October 10, 2019

Legal Issues With Full Face Snorkels

Public awareness of the dangers of full-face snorkels is increasing and tour operators in Hawaii are increasingly banning their use due to safety concerns.  A State of Hawaii Advisory Committee is investigating the link between drowning deaths and the full-face masks and Civil Beat recently published another article with additional information.  It has now published two stories, one in 2018 and one in 2019. 
Many snorkelers find the masks difficult to remove which can become dangerous when filled with water.  There have also been concerns about carbon dioxide build-up due to dead-space ventilation in the masks causing users to become light-headed.  Disorientation combined with potentially rough water and the exertion of swimming could lead to a drowning.  

There is some information indicating that the masks designed by Ocean Reef, one of the original manufacturers of the full-face masks, function properly.  However, some consumers may have purchased cheaper masks online with a similar, but defective, design.  Full-face mask designs are not new and have actually been around for about seventy years.  Their popularity has increased recently though, particularly in Hawaii, with increased tourism, travel and interest in exploring the ocean.  

Visitors to Maui are often surprised by the size of the water and the effort it takes to snorkel in relatively calm seas.  Any sizable chop on the water or a strong current often leads to swimmers getting into trouble.  Even strong swimmers sometimes have difficulty getting back to shore. 

While most snorkelers stay on the surface, it's not uncommon for some to dive into the water to reach the bottom or to investigate an interesting coral or fish.  When diving under water, the full-face mask design is inferior to the traditional style with a mask that only covers the eyes and nose.  The hard cover of a full-face design does not allow users to equalize the pressure in their nose and ears, causing severe discomfort only a few feet below the surface.  Additionally, when the snorkel tube becomes filled with water from diving or a wave washing water into it, users may not be familiar with how to clear the tube which can cause the inhalation of water. 

As the number of drownings increases in Hawaii, a number of deaths have been associated with full-face snorkels.  Specific evidence in unattended drownings is difficult to find since there are usually few witnesses.  However, it is possible that a product liability lawsuit will be filed claiming that the products are defective. 

A successful product liability lawsuit must prove that the product did not meet the ordinary expectations of the consumer.  Tying a manufacturer's negligence to a death or injury can be challenging.  However, drowning is certainly not an ordinarily expected consequence of buying and using a full-face snorkel mask. 
If you believe a personal injury or wrongful death was caused by negligence, call our office today for a consultation. We handle personal injury, negligence and wrongful death matters.

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