[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Brancheau wrongful death hearing runs into problems


(WESH.com, Orlando, FL)


Hearings On SeaWorld Trainer Death To Be Held In Orlando

Feds Having Difficulty Securing Location For High-Profile Hearing

POSTED: 3:01 pm EDT September 12, 2011
UPDATED: 3:35 pm EDT September 12, 2011

SeaWorld killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau & Tilikum moments before the trainer was killed. More
ORLANDO, Fla. -- SeaWorld's challenge of the federal government's investigative findings following the death of a whale trainer will be battled out next week in Orlando.

A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Review Commission says the hearing is set to begin Monday, Sept. 19 and is expected to last a full week.
The review commission's regional office in Atlanta says it has run into significant difficulty trying to secure a venue to host the hearings.
The spokesman says several potential venues they've contacted have expressed concern about the crowd the hearing may attract and potential security issues.
Whale trainer Dawn Brancheau died on Feb. 24, 2010, when she was pulled underwater and killed by Tilikum, the largest whale at SeaWorld Orlando.
After investigating the incident, OSHA slapped SeaWorld with several willful safety violations, including not adequately protecting trainers.
SeaWorld is contesting OSHA's findings and that will be the subject of next week's hearing, which will be much like a trial with both OSHA and SeaWorld presenting witnesses in front of an administrative law judge.

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"SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA. 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. The safety of our guests and employees and the welfare of our animals are core values for SeaWorld and areas in which we do not compromise. The hearing is the proper forum to discuss active litigation and we will not go into further detail in the media until these allegations are resolved," SeaWorld spokewoman Becca Bides said in a statement Monday.
Since Brancheau's death SeaWorld has made significant changes to its killer whale shows including keeping trainers out of the water.
Meanwhile, Brancheau's family is continuing a legal battle in hopes of preventing video of the trainer's final moments from being shown during the hearing or released to the public.
In a new response to the federal lawsuit, The Department of Labor says Brancheau's family has started a legal fight that can't even be fought yet and that the federal agency doesn't even possess some of the materials the family claims.
Brancheau's family recently filed federal legal action seeking to bar OSHA from releasing what the family called "death scene materials," or surveillance of the trainer's death along with photographs of Brancheau and the surrounding area after her death.
The Department of Labor conceded it has underwater video of the incident from a SeaWorld camera that day. But, OSHA says in a new legal filing the underwater video is the only video it has.
"To be clear, OSHA did not obtain -- and does not possess -- a video from a watchtower made by SeaWorld, or the death scene photographs of Ms. Brancheau described by (the family's lawyers)," the response to the lawsuit said.
The family filed the suit because there is no federal injunction barring the release of the video.
An Orange County judge entered a permanent injunction barring the release of the video in December 2010.
The Department of Labor also argues the family's lawsuit can't even be ruled on yet, because the DOL hasn't made a final decision on whether the video will ever be released.
The DOL says it hasn't received a Freedom of Information Act request asking for the video and as such has not had to weigh whether to release the video.
Since no decision has been made, there's no final decision for the federal court to review, the DOL attorney argued.

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