The family of Canadian conservationist and filmmaker Rob Stewart filed a wrongful death lawsuit on March 28th, 2017 at Broward County Circuit Court in Florida. The suit follows Stewart’s death during a dive off the Florida Keys in January 2017, and seeks unspecified damages.
Rob Stewart’s disappearance
Stewart, 37, died while filming “Sharkwater Extinction” at the Queen of Nassau wreck off the coast of Islamorada. Stewart came into difficulties during the day’s third dive to 229 feet (70 m) with dive organizer Peter Sotis. The men conducted the dive to retrieve the grappling hook on the wreck that marked the dive location. They were using rebreather equipment from Sotis’ company, Add Helium, and surfaced together with breathing difficulties. Stewart disappeared from the surface while the Pisces crew was giving oxygen to Sotis. The Coast Guard found Stewart’s body three days later, 300 feet (91 m) from its last known location at the surface. The discovery followed a multi-agency, 6,000-square-mile search.
Wrongful death lawsuit
The Stewart family’s attorney, Michael Haggard, has commented that the death “was a preventable tragedy that was going to happen to someone.” The lawsuit has claimed negligence and the defendants listed are Horizon Divers, Add Helium LLC and dive organizers Peter and Claudia Sotis.
Sotis has had previous legal issues. He was one of four defendants found guilty of a $300,000 jewelry heist in Fort Myers in 1991. He served approximately three years in prison because of that conviction. A recent lawsuit accused Sotis of providing military-grade scuba equipment to a Libyan militant in 2016 and selling non-certified compressed air tanks.
Sotis’ lawyer, Raymond Robin, has not yet commented on this latest lawsuit.
Haggard has stated the family “hopes the legal action will push out and/or change the ways of all irresponsibly operating diving businesses and help keep attention on Stewart’s mission of ocean conservation.”
Stewart’s 2006 documentary “Sharkwater” brought shark finning to the public’s attention and inspired conservationists worldwide. The film received 31 international awards. Stewart followed up with “Revolution,” a 2013 documentary about environmental collapse. There are plans for completion of “Sharkwater Extinction” as a tribute to Stewart’s work.