SeaWorld Fights Fines Following Trainer's Death

OSHA hits SeaWorld with $75,000 in penalties

Monday, Sep 19, 2011  |  Updated 2:21 PM CDT
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SeaWorld Orlando officials were scheduled to be in court Monday to respond to penalties levied following the death of a trainer last February.

The company faces fines of $75,000 from the  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  following the death of Dawn Brancheau, who grew up near Chicago, in Cedar Lake, Indiana.

Brancheau, 40, was rubbing a killer whale named Tilikum from a poolside platform after a show when the whale reached up, grabbed her with its mouth and dragged her underwater.

The medical examiner said she died of drowning and traumatic injuries.

OSHA issued three safety citations after an investigation into Brancheau's death. The agency claims that SeaWorld exposed their workers to drowning hazards and dangers during interactions with marine animals because they don't have physical barriers between trainers and killer whales.

"These allegations are completely baseless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care," SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides told the Associated Press.

OSHA will be allowed to present video and images of Brancheau's death from the SeaWorld cameras during the hearing.

Brancheau's family tried to stop OSHA from showing the video at the hearing and argued that showing the video would be an invasion of privacy, but district Judge Gregory Pushnell denied the request last week.

In a court filing, the family said the content "is the most intrusive imaginable because family members would be barraged with a widespread and repeated depiction of Dawn's gruesome and traumatic death."

Filed written arguments from both sides are due to the judge within 10 days after the hearing and the judge will rule sometime after that, according to OSHA spokesman Melik Ahmir-abdul. 

If the judge rules against SeaWorld, they have the option of appealing to the commission.

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