Nearly four years after the fatal drowning of a SeaWorld employee, an appellate court upheld a finding that SeaWorld had violated federal safety laws.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act or OSHA requires that employees be allowed to work in an environment that is free from threats to their health and safety. When employers fail to ensure the work environment is safe for their employees, they can be cited for violations of federal law.
An investigation in the aftermath of the drowning of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by a killer whale named Tilikum found that the company fully understood the potentially fatal danger of that killer whales posed to human employees.
SeaWorld attempted to fight the original decision that it had violated federal laws by claiming that the finding was unsubstantiated. In addition, the organization argued that there was inherent risk to trainers working with killer whales, and that this risk could not be deemed a recognized hazard.
In a 2-1 decision, the federal appeals court upheld the original decision that SeaWorld had violated a portion of OSHA.
Everyone who said Seaworld would win every legal battle just because they are a big company, have a little faith!!!
— ριρєѕ мαℓσиє (@pipesmalone) April 12, 2014
SeaWorld loses court appeal. Trainers can't get in the water and play, perform with killer whales. http://t.co/yUv2AzYcOZ
— Scott Maxwell (@Scott_Maxwell) April 12, 2014
The court found that there were documented incidents of aggressive behaviors towards trainers at SeaWorld before and after the drowning. The additional measures taken with Tilikim were determined to have proved the killer whale to be a threat rather than the trainers to have been made safer during the performance of their duties.
At present, SeaWorld has not decided whether or not they will appeal the decision.
SeaWorld made a statement following the ruling:
SeaWorld remains committed to providing a safe workplace for employees, healthy environments for the animals in our care, and inspirational and educational experiences with killer whales for our guests.
The company also claims that since the death of Brancheau, it has "voluntarily deployed several new safety measures, including removing trainers from the water during shows."
Tilikum was the subject of the controversial documentary, "Blackfish".
Image via Wikimedia Commons