The death of a trainer at the SeaWorld amusement park in Orlando, Florida, may drastically change the way these and other similar animal shows are conducted. The trainer drowned when a six-ton male killer whale dragged her to the bottom of its tank during a show.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) got involved in the case, fining SeaWorld for exposing its trainers to a “hazardous environment.” OSHA also demanded that SeaWorld change its shows to keep trainers physically separated from killer whales. Anyone who’s seen a killer whale show knows that keeping trainers separated from the animals will reduce some of the show’s excitement.
The OSHA action is bad enough for the amusement park, but what about other lawsuits? One suit has been brought by the family of a boy who witnessed the trainer’s death, saying that the boy suffered emotional distress as a result of the incident. That case has since been dismissed.
Does the trainer’s family have a right to sue SeaWorld for their loved one’s death? The answer is probably “no” if the trainer was an employee of the park, since the exclusive remedy for an employee’s injury or death on the job is through the workers’ compensation system. But if the trainer was an independent contractor, workers’ compensation won’t cover the incident, and the family may be able to bring a wrongful death action against SeaWorld.
Even if the trainer was an employee of SeaWorld, that doesn’t preclude other action by the family. For instance, medical personnel could still be sued for medical malpractice if the trainer would have survived absent their negligence. And anyone other than the employer or another employee could be sued if their negligence caused the employee’s injuries or death.
Personal injury and wrongful death cases are challenging enough, but when someone is killed on the job, navigating the system and getting the optimal payment for the surviving family members requires a great deal of skill. Finding the right St. Louis, Missouri wrongful death attorney is the first step to success.