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Seeking accountability when known hazards cause wrongful death

Risks to orca whale trainers aren't something Milwaukee residents likely deal with on a personal level. But all the same, they can relate to situations similar to the one facing the well-known business located in another state. Wrongful death allegations based on a workplace accident can happen in Wisconsin in any business. Holding the company owner accountable in some fashion is a choice of survivors that can substantially impact their futures.

To illustrate the point, consider the conclusions drawn by a three-judge panel in the capital's Circuit Court. An animal trainer working at a well-known venue was killed during a public performance with a whale. The 40-year-old woman drowned when the orca dragged her under the water by the hair.

Occupational Safety and Health Commission investigators found safety standards in the workplace were violated by the company with orca trainers' exposure to recognized hazards. OSHA found the violations to be serious but not willful. Failing to prove it was not aware of the dangers in working with killer whales resulted in a $7,000 fine. Based on what is called the general duty employers have to assure a safe workplace, they also required safety measures be taken, which the company had already done on its own.

The divided panel confirmed OSHA's findings, opining there exists substantial evidence that the company knew its precautions were insufficient to prevent serious injury or a fatal workplace accident. Its assertion that trainers accepted the exposure and risk goes against Congress's assigning the duty to ensure workplace safety upon the employer, not a worker, according to the judges' ruling. The dissenting opinion raised the question of society taking on the protecting of entertainers from themselves, and deciding for others when a risk is too great for a willing participant.

Rulings such as these can support a cause of action survivors may choose to utilize when seeking compensation for the wrongful death of a family member. A thorough, experienced review of OSHA investigations, accident evidence and legal options is a sound approach to holding responsible employers accountable and future financial security.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "SeaWorld Must Pay for Risks or Orca Trainers" Jack Bouboushian, Apr. 14, 2014

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