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May 2005 Vol. 31, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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UWATEC Settles Over Dive Computer

— the final calculations of the Aladin Air X Nitrox

from the May, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Five divers who got bent while using UWATEC Aladin Air X Nitrox computers have settled lawsuits against UWATEC and its parent company, Johnson Outdoor International. The divers complained of permanent neurological damage, including paralysis in some cases, after diving with faulty computers manufactured in 1995. In its Nitrox mode, the user-programmable computer assumed that divers were still breathing Nitrox during surface intervals. By not switching to an air table, the software underestimated the buildup of residual nitrogen during repetitive dives. The greater the number of repetitive dives — and the longer the surface intervals — the greater the danger of suffering from decompression sickness.

Public records filed in the lawsuits also alleged a pattern of problems either being ignored or denied in the face of mounting evidence of the dangerous “air-switching” defect. According to a deposition by Bret Gilliam, the ex-vice president and CEO of UWATEC U.S.A., repeated attempts to recall the computers were stifled as early as 1996 by Heinz Ruchti, UWATEC’s founder and owner. Gilliam, who went on to found International Training Inc. (TDI and SDI) and Fathoms Magazine, testified that after Ruchti sold the company to Johnson Worldwide Associates — now Johnson Outdoor International, which also owns Scubapro — Johnson execs continued the cover-ups, even after Mitchell Skaggs and Resvan Iazdi developed serious DCS following a series of repetitive Nitrox dives with Aladin Air X computers in 1999. Although Skaggs, Iazdi and two more bent divers sued, the company still refused to acknowledge a problem with the computer, according to Gilliam’s deposition.

Finally a fifth defendant sued in 2003. Bob Raimo, who had been an authorized UWATEC dealer, said he was injured while diving in Bonaire with an Aladin Air X Nitrox in 2002. Raimo’s attorney, David Concannon, filed a class action lawsuit in early 2003 calling for a mandatory recall of the 1995 computers unless the company initiated a voluntary recall first. Despite claims from a Johnson attorney that the recall demand was “asinine” on such short notice, the company did, in fact, recall the 1995 Aladin a short time later. “About time,” as Undercurrent stated in our April, 2003, article on the case.

Some of the legal wrangling in these proceedings got downright ugly. The first plaintiff to settle, in February 2003, was David Sipperly. According to Concannon, “Sipperly’s private investigator, Donald Snelling, uncovered a lot of dirt on the defendants. The defendants subsequently hired Sipperly’s private investigator to work for them, but when the judge found out, he issued an opinion disqualifying the investigator and almost disqualifying Johnson’s corporate counsel for hiring him.” Snelling was disqualified after Johnson’s first law firm, Monroe & Shapiro, and partner Matt Monroe, were disqualified for unethical misconduct in March, 2003. The court’s scathing opinions disqualifying both Snelling and Monroe are a matter of public record.

Three of the other cases settled in the fall of 2004. The final suit, brought by Raimo, was scheduled to go to trial this past February. However, at the eleventh hour Johnson requested mediation, which led to a settlement. Says Concannon, “There is an ironclad confidentiality agreement in place,” so details of the settlement are unknown.

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