Sea World of Florida, LLC v. Solis, No. 12-1375 (D.C. Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
In February 2010, a SeaWorld trainer was killed by Tilikum, a killer whale, during a performance before a live audience in a pool at Shamu Stadium in Orlando. OSHA found that SeaWorld violated the general duty clause, section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(1), by exposing SeaWorld's trainers to recognized hazards when working in close contact with killer whales during performances and that the abatement procedures recommended by the Secretary of Labor were feasible. On appeal, SeaWorld challenged the second element (either the employer or the industry recognized the condition or activity as a hazard) and fourth element (a feasible means to eliminate or materially reduce the hazard existed) of the general duty citation. The court concluded that the evidence supported the ALJ's finding that a recognized hazard existed, even beyond the impact of SeaWorld's safety protocols; there was substantial evidence that SeaWorld recognized its precautions were inadequate to prevent serious bodily harm or even death to its trainers and that the residual hazard was preventable; the potential harm to SeaWorld's trainers existed in their workplace and involved conditions over which SeaWorld had control; SeaWorld's challenge to the ALJ's decision to credit the testimony of the Secretary's expert with regard to the aggressive behavior of killer whales failed; substantial evidence supported the ALJ's findings that it was feasible for SeaWorld to abate the hazard to its employees by using barriers or minimum distance between trainers and killer whales, most notably because SeaWorld has implemented many of these measures on its own; and the court rejected SeaWorld's contention that the general duty clause was unconstitutionally vague as applied. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review.