"Seven things every instructor should know about the realities of risk management"http://cavediverharry.com/seven-things/
That was a great article. Why did "Admin" write it? You produce good work, Harry. You should be proud to put your name on it.
I'd love to throw in some of my perceptions of what is happening in the industry, however, and I'm sure you'll agree, I will only respond to legitimate responses from those wishing to engage in a dialog that everyone can learn from.
I've had a course director tell me once (someone in the industry that I respect) that everyone's educational practices can be scrutinized. I always knew that to be true. From that, I also have always known that you can do everything right, and still be sued so there are some things I do to make what I do defensible in court. Like you later point out, I'm sure the process will destroy one emotionally having to go through it...
For myself, I've thought about the idea that someone could follow my death by a lawsuit and I've directly and publicly made it know, I do not want that. I would hope that if I ever died while scuba diving it was not due to someone causing my equipment to fail or purposeful negligence, however, I know that scuba diving is dangerous and I am not going to blame anyone for my decision to dive. I solely make the decision to dive! As an experienced instructor, I can look back and see how recreational divers easily let a lot slide that should have resulted in injury or death. Those experiences (you'd think) should mitigate further instances from happening, but as Brett Gillium once said, "you can't dictate common sense!" I'm sure others have said that too, but it was published.
Interestingly, I saw an Instagram post today with a picture of the PADI, scuba update textbook. I've set my standards a lot higher and encourage my students to set their standards high as well. I will offer a refresher if it has been less than 12 months since one's last dive, however anything past 12 months requires complete educational review, complete pool, and 2 open water dives at minimum. I also charge upwards of $350 for this refresher course as it is (for all intents and purposes) the full program again. And yes, I've had people pay for it and those that do not, I encourage NOT to dive.
I don't think of an "accident" or the possibility of one as something to win; as any injury scuba diving should not be caused by a blatant disregard for safe practices. With that said, I feel that the area of concern that insurance companies should be looking at are the issuance of certification cards by instructors. I've actually called and talked to an liability insurance company for one of the largest training agencies. When I talked to them about my concerns in an area, they took my information and I got feedback from others within, but as would be expected, I did not receive a call back from the certifying agency. I found a loophole in the referral process and was offering some insight into something that is never done, but as expected, I did not get the response I expected. While it is possible that the insurance company may have modified their policy to deal with that other agency's issue, in the end, I think it was probably brushed under the mat.
I've been told by many of my students that practiced law that the first thing that will get torn apart is the liability releases, but I'd have to think that they have some merit or every industry involving risks wouldn't be using them. From the perspective of "under duress" as you've mentioned, I don't think there is a way to mitigate duress even when there is enough time, but even when I tell students to plan ahead, don't wait until the last minute to sign up for classes, pool work, or certification dives, inevitably they do. Coincidentally, the only time that I've ever had one of these procrastinators try to tell me that I was changing the rules, was 10 days before their trip and turned out to be an attorney (the husband of my student). I got a text from him with the first line, "This is ___, Attorney." The moment I got the text I called him to lay the cards out on the table which put him very quickly back in place. First, he was not my student. Second, the moment anyone addresses themselves as attorney in a personal communication, I stop talking if they are going in a legal direction. To my benefit, every conversation with ANY direction of time, dates, expectations are ALWAYS documented in email, text, writing, or similar. I had written documentation of the delays that put the student in marathon mode and part of me was looking for a fight just to prove I was right. While I've learned to pick my battles and worked it all out, I made sure that my student know that bullies are everywhere in scuba as well, and part of her lessons emphasized the importance of clear and concise instruction and services that are documented.
I don't recall ever seeing a risk awareness video that was part of the lesson plan including a test! I love the idea of reading it out loud, but not sure if that would make a difference unless it was the student reading it aloud AND on video tape. That would be pretty hard to convince a jury that the student didn't know what they are getting into when they are reading the risk awareness aloud, however I'm sure "prisoner of war" would sneak in there somehow.
Medical forms and YES or NO is problematic. With coaching, the answers get written a certain way. Without coaching, the answers get written another way. Even with the agencies that have questions that result in a "yes" like, "Are you over 40 years of age" seem kind of arbitrary not to mention doctors that know nothing of scuba physiology even with the backside printed on the RSTC one page form. I did know a dive shop owner that made every student get a release, but it seemed that many seemed to be going to their local "quick care" centers to get the doctor on duty to sign off. To that extent, I'm not sure that medical issues are the greatest concern in comparison to training standards. I think some medical conditions warrant further evaluation, but I know people that have received certification in which I wish a medical roadblock could keep them out of the water!
With scuba instructors having to answer a student's questions on the medical form or liability release, if it were as easy to say, "I am not a doctor or lawyer and cannot help you with that answer" seems like it leaves too much of an opportunity to just write in "NO" in order to get into the class. Writing in "no" and not understanding what a no means seems just as dangerous. At the very least, an instructor that knows how contraindications to diving may effect a person in general, can then say, "the general population considers this as the problem..." I've had students that answered "yes" to equalization issues because they thought they would never be able to dive because when they were a child their ears hurt when they swam to the bottom of the pool. After a few minutes of clarifying what happened to them, and documenting their answer on the medical statement form, it was safe to say that "equalization issues" were NOT previous barotrauma. Without that open communication, that would never be revealed and could even warrant the student going through extensive medical evaluation from the conceived internal injury that really doesn't exist. The article also doesn't address the issue when the diver is junior or under age and must have a parent sign.
I've known another course director that made students rate themselves, "a transfer of liability" as he called it. At first I thought that was a great idea... Upon being independent, I started to see that most students honestly rate themselves too low and instructors too high. Skills are important, but one will NOT master a skill prior to leaving the pool, not to mention after certification dives. Even if the student and instructor gave the student "5" out of "5" once the course is complete, scuba diving experience begins, WITHOUT the instructor and must continue to be available in an emergency (a time of crisis) to be useful. Something that rarely if ever happens in training situations. While I know that many might not agree with the subjective evaluation of "technical diver attitude" from TDI and the "loved one's statement" from NAUI, there is no way in hell that I'm issuing a cert card to someone that did the skill very well yet was in a state of anxiety or lacked confidence in the diving and skills they just performed. Lack of confidence, anxiety, and panic are just as dangerous as poor mask clearing skills (in my opinion).
As far as your teaching career being over, I don't think that is a professional decision, but I can see how that could be a personal one. I've seen divers die and it was emotionally eventful in my growth as a recreational and technical diver and monumental as an instructor. It was only through being a first hand witness to such an event that I have the experience to tell students that scuba diving can kill you without it being something that one is regurgitating from the instructor manual. One of the reasons I love articles like this is that only a select group of those in the industry offer feedback. While learning what to say, when, and to whom comes with experience, I truly believe that instructors that teach for fun never stand up to dive shop owners until they quit. Those fully employed by shops are too often "only following orders." I did two years as an employee in a dive shop and now ONLY work independently as a full-time instructor. I also set my standards higher because of what I see at dive sites, on dive boats, and come from the "churn and burn" local dive shops. Scuba has changed my life, I love teaching, and my students are real people to me. I settle for making less money because I don't sell equipment, but "great training is never an accident!"
The cost of insurance does NOT match the amount paid out in dive accidents or deaths and the annual rates are not reflective of poor training, but blood-thirsty attorneys. Just like the guy on the United Airlines flight that refused to leave his seat and the backlash that occurred, it seems he had an attorney the moment he was off the plane. I'm not going into that debate, but those that think the airline was at fault and should go bankrupt do so without thinking of the 82,000+ employees of United, the consequential families that would lose for a shut down, not to mention the doubling of all other airline rates as United fills a gap that all the other airlines could not take on. What these means for scuba and how it correlates is that the few that turn scuba into the "sport of death" only second to base jumping are not looking at the community as a whole. Standards are pretty consistent throughout the industry with minimum requirements, and those standards result in far less deaths per year most other sporting events. There is work to be done in many areas of scuba, risk management.
Discussions like this make our industry better when the discussion is open. Thanks for posting!