Many Denver residents may remember the tragic death of a SeaWorld trainer in February 2010 after the killer whale that she was working with dragged her into his tank and drowned her. Although Denver zoos and water parks may not have killer whales, SeaWorld's attempt to fight federal sanctions brought by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration may call into question what kind of liability an employer has for employee safety.
In many situations, if an employee dies in a work-related accident, his or her family members are eligible for certain workers' compensation benefits. While many family members may think that employers would be compassionate to a family after an employee has died, many will fight to deny workers' compensation to surviving family members, arguing that they provided sufficient safety measures to prevent injury or death in the workplace. Oftentimes, families may have to work with a workers' compensation lawyer in order to get the benefits they are owed.
In this story, SeaWorld initially requested that the judge not consider the trainer's death as part of the OSHA citations hearing. It argued that the OSHA citations were only applicable to trainer safety during a performance and that at the time of the woman's death, the show had already ended. Fortunately, the judge disagreed with SeaWorld and continued with the hearing.
OSHA alleges that SeaWorld failed to incorporate sufficient safety measures into its killer whale performances, which ultimately led to this tragic accident. According to OSHA, trainers consistently put themselves at risk solely for SeaWorld performances. Instead of highlighting its safety procedures or indicating what it has changed since the trainer's death, an attorney for SeaWorld insisted that being in the water with the killer whales is what the trainers have "always done."
Source: 13 News, "SeaWorld Trainer: Tilikum 'easy -going, congenial'," Dave D'Marko, Nov. 16, 2011