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SeaWorld Trainer Dies during Contact with Whale

An Orlando SeaWorld trainer died in an accident while handling one of the park’s trained killer whales on Feb. 24. According to official reports, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau was standing in knee-deep water, interacting with the performing whale known as Tilikum, when she was pulled into the water and subsequently drowned. Brancheau was an experienced trainer, and officials are still looking at exactly how the tragic incident unfolded. Witnesses reported that staff could not assist Brancheau immediately because the animal could not be effectively controlled.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now looking into this terrible event that shows how dangerous working with potentially lethal animals can be. Local law enforcement experts have identified the case as a drowning with no sign of “foul play.” According to recent reports, there is some debate and conflicting witness testimony over whether Tilikum was “agitated” or otherwise visibly disturbed prior to the accident. OSHA will look at the case from a perspective of workplace safety. In past years, OSHA has fined another park after a trainer was bitten by a whale and sustained injuries.

Research shows that Brancheau’s death is not the first time that Tilikum has caused harm to humans. A past incident involved a man found dead in the whale’s enclosure after he illegally entered the park after hours.

Since Tilikum has a history of violence, some ask whether SeaWorld will retire the animal from use. Some experts say it’s unlikely the park will completely retire the animal, because of his immense value in performance as well as breeding.

All of the incidents are getting a lot of attention after the recent fatality demonstrate how dangerous animal training jobs can be. They also show what kinds of workplace safety precautions are appropriate for theme parks and other facilities, and how difficult it can be to arrange for holistic safety with unpredictable animals in training routines.

Typically, a worker who survives an injury from a performing animal will need significant therapy and recovery time to regain normal functions and return to the job. Hospital stays and intensive treatments are often part of the aftermath of even a minor animal attack.

Orlando amusement park accident attorney James O. Cunningham has a history of successfully obtaining compensation for those injured in a theme park or other venues where the thrills provided can include unsafe conditions. You can call The Law Offices of James O. Cunningham at 407-425-2000 or toll-free 888-425-2004. A contact form is also available to submit your inquiry online.

James O. Cunningham

Since 1977, personal injury lawyer James Cunningham has provided effective legal advocacy to people who are injured through the negligent actions of another person or entity throughout the Central Florida area. He fights to obtain recoveries for his clients’ physical and emotional pain and suffering and pursues his clients’ personal injury cases with a commitment to excellence and impeccable preparation.

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