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Federal appeals court upholds SeaWorld trainer drowning decision

Pennsylvania SeaWorld fans might have heard about the trainer at the SeaWorld Park in Orlando, Florida, who was interacting with a killer whale on Feb. 24, 2010, when the whale took hold of her and pulled her from a platform and into the pool. She was held underwater and drowned in front of a live audience. A documentary film was produced in 2013 based upon Tilikum, the killer whale who was involved in the drowning, and it was entitled "Blackfish."

Following the drowning incident, the Labor Department issued SeaWorld a citation that, for all practical purposes, creates a ban on popular yet allegedly dangerous shows where trainers and whales interact. In a 2-1 decision on April 11, a federal appeals court upheld the findings by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in its decision that SeaWorld Orlando was in violation of federal workplace safety law.

The court said that the commission was correct and that SeaWorld's appeal was unconvincing. The court also said that trainers were exposed to known hazards during the shows when they work in close contact with the killer whales. According to the appeals judge, the theme park's incident reports show a clear recognition of the perils that killer whales can pose to trainers and that at least one incident report was on file for each of the seven killer whales that were at the park at the time of the trainer's death.

OSHA's general duty clause compels all employers to provide their workers a place to work that presents no known hazards that could cause serious physical injury or death. When workers are injured or lose their lives in a workplace accident caused by employer negligence, an attorney could help the worker or their family to prepare a viable case for pursuing compensation instead of seeking standard workers' compensation coverage.

Source: ABC News, "SeaWorld Loses Appeal in Death by Killer Whale", Pete Yost, April 11, 2014

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