Court rules SeaWorld can’t put trainers back with killer whales

WASHINGTON — SeaWorld has lost the legal battle to get whale trainers back in tanks with killer whales. The case stems from new regulations placed on the park operator after a whale trainer’s death four years ago.

In 2010, Veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau died after a six-ton killer whale named Tilikum pulled her into a pool while she worked with him in Orlando.

After the incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stepped in and issued three citations against the park. One required whale trainers to be behind a physical barrier, ending the parks tradition that involved trainers swimming alongside and riding the animals.

Back in November of 2013, lawyers for SeaWorld argued to a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court of Appeals in D.C. that OSHA overstepped its bounds and asked that the citations against them be overturned.

In a 2-1 decision, the court upheld OSHA’s decision and supported the use of barriers to “abate the hazard to its employees.”

Lead attorney for SeaWorld, Eugene Scalia, said back in November that trainers, like professional athletes, know about the risks that come with the job. He said it would be like OSHA eliminating close contact in the NFL.

“More people are injured in the NFL on any given Sunday then were injured in the 22-year period that OSHA looked at in this case,” said Scalia.

Amy Tryon, OSHA’s attorney, said SeaWorld has the responsibility of keeping its employees safe and that’s what the restrictions accomplished. The administration cited the “General Duty Clause” of the Occupational Safety Health Act, which requires employers to keep workplaces free of “recognized hazards.”

With the court denying an appeal, the only option for SeaWorld is to take their case to the Supreme Court. The company hasn’t said whether or not it plans to.

The court’s decision can be read here.

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