Snorkeller’s death was misadventure, jury finds

Visitor had history of diabetes and hypertension

Brian Fitzpatrick, a certified scuba diver from Colorado, drowned while snorkelling off East End on 11 August, 2010. A Coroner’s Jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure during an inquest conducted earlier this month by Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik.  

Government pathologist Shravana Jyoti said Mr. Fitzpatrick, 61, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 20 and was dependent on insulin. About five months before his death, he was diagnosed with hypertension. 

A low level of blood sugar could result in an altered state of consciousness, Mr. Jyoti said. As a geriatrician, Mr. Fitzpatrick would have been aware of his medical conditions and the need for strict diet control. 

His travel companion, Joyce Hamilton, said they had been snorkelling for about an hour in the morning at Morritt’s Tortuga and another hour in the afternoon on the day of the incident. Ms Hamilton said Mr. Fitzpatrick had light food or a few cookies in the afternoon, but she was not sure if he had any food or not. Meanwhile, he was seen having a few drinks. 

They went snorkelling again around 6.15pm. At one point she thought he looked uneasy, but when she asked him if he was okay, he quickly replied he was all right. When it was getting dark they decided to go back in. 

At some point on the way back to shore, she looked behind her and called to him, but he did not respond. Then she saw him turn over on his back. He made no noise and was motionless. She started swimming toward him and shouting for help. 

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s former brother-in-law, John T. Brogan, was on the shore and saw what was happening. He swam out to assist Mr. Fitzpatrick. Ms Hamilton did not know who assisted her. 

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed and an ambulance arrived to carry Mr. Fitzpatrick to the hospital, where efforts to revive him continued but were not successful. 

The autopsy revealed that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s airway was congested and his lungs weighed 2,440 grams. The pathologist said the expected weight would have been around 850 grams. The difference suggested water inhalation. The heart was also enlarged, weighing 520 grams when the expected weight would have been 300 to 350 grams. 

Laboratory tests for recreational drugs were negative. Tests for alcohol consumption showed 76 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. By way of comparison, in cases of driving under the influence of alcohol, the legal limit is 100 milligrams. 

Mr. Jyoti said he found no food particles in the stomach. He also found no signs of violence. 

He concluded that the physical cause of death was drowning in sea water. Contributing factors were the diabetes and hypertension.  

The jury adopted his findings and returned the misadventure verdict. 

Earlier, the coroner explained that misadventure occurs when someone deliberately undertakes a task that then goes wrong. 

1 COMMENT

  1. The legal basis of medical practitioner’s duty of confidentiality. What rules and regulations govern the confidentiality of medical records in Cayman Islands? Who may authorize the public disclosure of the medical record of a deceased individual? And why? Was the privilege of confidentiality waived by the decedent’s personal representative? Have you ever thought that the disclosure would tend to disgrace the memory of the decedent?

    Editor’s Note: Inquests are done in open, publicly funded court, ruled by a jury and are public. There is no privilege of confidentiality.

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