A Chicago personal injury and wrongful death law firm has been retained by the husband of the SeaWorld trainer who was killed by a whale in February, according to NBC2 in Orlando.
Dawn Brancheau was pulled into a pool and drown by a whale named Tilikum. Some media reports indicated the animal had a history of aggression.
Earlier this week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a $75,000 fine against SeaWorld in connection with the trainer’s death. OSHA is the federal body charged with investigating serious and fatal work accidents. The government agency found SeaWorld committed a “willful” violation, meaning the company demonstrated indifference and intentional disregard for the safety of employees.
When a worker is injured, a Chicago injury attorney should always be consulted to ensure that your rights are protected.
The NBC station quoted an Orlando attorney as saying the case would be difficult to win because an employee can only sue for wrongful death in Florida if they fit into a narrow exception to the worker’s compensation statute where they show that the employer knew there was virtual certainty of injury or death to an employee.
The question is whether working with this killer whale meets the exception under the law.
“SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals,” said Cindy Coe, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta, Ga. “Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the pool walls, on ledges and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals.”
OSHA found the animal in question was one of three killer whales previously involved in the death of an animal trainer in 1991 at Sea Land of the Pacific in Canada. SeaWorld had reportedly forbidden trainers from swimming with the whale because of its past behavior but still permitted park employees to touch the whale and remain in close proximity during training and live shows.
“All employers are obligated to assess potential risks to the safety and health of their employees and take actions to mitigate those risks,” said Les Grove, OSHA’s area director in Tampa, Fla. “In facilities that house wild animals, employers need to assess the animals under their care and to minimize human-animal interaction if there is no safe way to reliably predict animal behavior under all conditions.”
O’Connor & Nakos is the Chicago personal injury law firm that was hired by the family.