ST. PETE BEACH, Florida -- It is anticipated that an Orlando Judge will be asked to sign a "Protective Order" for an upcoming SeaWorld vs. OSHA hearing, effectively sealing off the details of this high profile case forever. The proceedings before Federal Judge Ben Welch, originally scheduled to begin Monday, February 14, 2011 have been rescheduled to April 25, 2011, in Orlando, Forida. SeaWorld is contesting OSHA citations issued in August, including a finding for the "Willful" act of knowingly placing its employees at risk, following an investigation into the tragic death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau.
In the past, SeaWorld has been successful at maintaining a cloak of secrecy in cases regarding employee injuries, akin to the crippling of trainer John Sillick in 1987, and it's expected they will try to follow the same path after the death of their veteran orca trainer nearly one year ago.
If an order is issued by the Judge, it could bar the public from participating in the hearing and seal all content, including expert witness testimony from both sides and the documentation and evidence describing the suboptimal conditions associated with orca (killer whale) captivity. If the attempt to seal is successful, expert witnesses who participate in this trial would not be allowed to discuss or write anything about it publicly. It will also prevent content from being used for future litigation or investigation… essentially closing the details from public view and scrutiny forever.
The fallout began on August 23, 2010 when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued citations to SeaWorld for apparently placing profit above employee safety. OSHA fined SeaWorld Orlando $75,000 for safety violations including the maximum $70,000 penalty for the "Willful" act of knowingly placing its employees at risk, a charge that has major implications beyond the monetary value, which is not substantial for the multi-billion dollar marine park. The stunning announcement of the "Willful" charge triggered a flurry of claims and opened the floodgates for further legal action by Dawn's family, terminated employees and witnesses. It has also sparked a growing number of former SeaWorld employees to speak out about the culture of working with orcas and the secrecy that shrouds the marine mammal entertainment industry.
SeaWorld's appeal of the August ruling prompted the upcoming hearing:
"SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA today and have already informed the agency that we will contest this citation," the company said in a written statement. "OSHA's allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence or precedent and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care."
Yet, even with SeaWorld's assertions of no wrong-doing, it is anticipated they will seek to keep all evidence out of public view while they contest the "unfounded allegations".
For the latest updates on this story and how you can help make sure these hearings are open for public scrutiny, please visit: http://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/seaworld- ...
For the latest updates, additional content, links to related documents, news and stories, visit www.theorcaproject.com
Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of UnderwaterTimes.com, its staff or its advertisers.