The widow of world-renown underwater photographer Wes Skiles, who drowned in 2010 while shooting goliath grouper off Boynton Beach for National Geographic, will ask a Palm Beach County jury to award her at least $25 million in damages from a diving equipment company that she claims is responsible for her husband’s death.
In opening statements on Monday, attorney Dustin Herman, who is representing Terri Skiles, claimed the company that produced the equipment Wes Skiles was using when he drowned never did appropriate tests to determine if it was safe.
“This is about failing to do safety testing on a piece of life safety equipment,” Herman said of the death of the 53-year-old North Florida resident. “If a corporation doesn’t do this type of testing, divers will die.”
An attorney representing Broward County resident Mark Derrrick, who was in a joint venture with Dive Rite Express to produce the rebreathing device Skiles was using, countered that Skiles was responsible for his own death.
While an accomplished scuba diver, he wasn’t certified to use the special underwater breathing device and was taking Ambien, which is used to treat insomnia, and the narcotic pain-killer hyrdocodone when he lost consciousness during an ascent from 83 feet, attorney David Concannon told the seven jurors. Skiles lost his mouthpiece and drowned.
“We’re going to ask you to find that it’s more likely than not that Mr. Skiles caused his own death,” Concannon said.
The key evidence during the two-week trial will be a roughly 45-minute video of the July 2010 dive, both sides said. Herman said it will show that the equipment malfunctioned. Concannon countered that it will show Skiles made many mistakes. It will further show, he claimed, that the warning systems on the rebreathing device were working, but Skiles ignored them.
“It’s up to you to determine why he’s doing that,” Concannon said of evidence that Skiles turned off the oxygen. “Is it because he’s impaired? Is it because he’s inexperienced?”
Skiles, who began diving when he was 13, performed over 7,000 dives and specialized in cave diving, Herman said. Just days after he died, the cover of National Geographic magazine featured one of his last dives – the blue holes of the Bahamas. After his death, National Geographic named him “Explorer of the Year.” Florida’s Peacock Springs Park near Live Oak was renamed Wesley Skiles Peacock Springs Park.