ORLANDO (CBSMiami) — Florida marine theme park SeaWorld Orlando is appealing a federal ruling that prevents its trainers from getting into the water with killer whales during performances.
A federal appellate court in Washington is hearing arguments on whether citations issued to SeaWorld Orlando should be upheld following the death of a trainer.
Three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia are listening to arguments Tuesday.
SeaWorld is contesting two citations issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration following the death of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau.
She was killed in February 2010 when a six-ton killer whale named Tilikum pulled her into a pool.
She was the third death connected to the same killer whale and her death brought an end to trainers in the water.
An administrative judge last year upheld the citations but downgraded them from willful to serious.
SeaWorld is arguing that the job safety agency overreached with its citations.
Those opposed to SeaWorld keeping killer whales in captivity predict if the company wins the appeal more trainers will die.
Backers of SeaWorld say if the company loses, the theme park itself could see its business die.
The case centers on something called “the general duty clause” which essentially says employers must provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.
SeaWorld says it has gone to great lengths to control the risk to its trainers but can’t eliminate the danger completely, and shouldn’t have to, saying OSHA has no more a right to impede SeaWorld’s business any more than they could demand speed limits for NASCAR.
SeaWorld is showing just how seriously they take this case by hiring Eugene Scalia, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to argue on their behalf.
Scalia is also the Labor Department’s former top lawyer, so he knows the system very well.