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Nicoletti Walker Law Group March 24, 2016

Every year, thousands of people flock to Florida to visit our many attractions, one of them being SeaWorld in Orlando. However, many do not realize that there are some serious injuries and deaths associated with some marine parks like these—especially those that encourage direct contact between orcas and employees and/or even audience members. In fact, SeaWorld was fined last year for improperly protecting employees from killer whales, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required that trainers no longer be in direct contact with killer whales (orcas) during shows without protective barriers.

Children have also been bitten while participating in some of the feeding operations at these park. In addition, OSHA has since fined the park for repeating violations after they ignored a federal court order and continued to run the facility with “recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards.”

Specific Hazards

Anyone who has worked with orcas knows that these creatures are strong and can inflict powerful injuries—as well as death. Specifically, trainers have historically been encouraged to kiss, hug, massage, etc. orcas without any distance between themselves and the animal. This could easily lead to an employee being hit or dragged into the water, which is a severe drowning hazard. And the trainer need not be in the water to be injured; in fact, Dawn Brancheau—a trainer who was killed by an orca named Tilikum—was doing “dry work” on a shallow ledge when she was grabbed by the killer whale, who proceeded to kill her. In that instance, there is no hope of recovery unless the killer whale releases the trainer. And the facilities covered by these citations include the Orlando location.

The Law

The safety standards protecting workers from captive orcas are contained in the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act. But what about industry safety violations as they apply to the public? There must be safety barriers between orcas and employees—as well as the audience and the orcas—at all times. This not only means that no one can get in the water with the orcas, but trainers and audience members should never—at any time—be invited to pet or feed the animals, for safety reasons.

Other, Current Lawsuits

Several plaintiffs have also filed suit against SeaWorld for fraud claims in a class action lawsuit. OSHA has also criticized SeaWorld for requiring trainers to sign confidentiality agreements concerning their ability to raise any kind of safety concerns.

Contact Us for Assistance

If you have been injured—or a loved one has been killed—due to negligence at a marine park, Mike Walker is here to help. Clearwater attorney Mike Walker has handled many personal injury and wrongful death cases like these—including those that occur while a family is on vacation. He is prepared to help you—contact his office today for a free consultation.