ORLANDO (CN) – The family of a whale trainer who was killed by an orca last year at SeaWorld Orlando sued the U.S. Secretary of Labor and OSHA to try to keep videos and photos of the death scene confidential so they will not have to relive their loved one’s death.
An orca seized Dawn Brancheau during a Feb. 24, 2010 “Dine With Shamu” show at SeaWorld, and pulled her into the tank.
Her husband Scott Brancheau sued the Labor Department and OSHA, along with his late wife’s mother, brother and sister, in a reverse Freedom of Information Act request.
They say their personal privacy interests should keep materials closed under exemption 6 of the FOIA.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and medical examiner investigated the death and agreed to keep the death scene materials confidential.
OSHA, however, has refused to assure the family it will do the same. It has released to the media at least one video depicting Dawn’s death. OSHA also has photos taken immediately after the incident showing Dawn’s personal effects and clothing, and two surveillance videos showing her death and rescue efforts.
The Orange County Court entered a permanent injunction in March 2010 barring release of the death scene materials. SeaWorld supported the injunction, while media outlets opposed it.
The court found that unrestricted viewing of the death materials would be disturbing, humiliating and painful for the family. In its new federal complaint, the family says public release of the images would immediately become widespread and would force the family to witness Dawn’s death over and over again.
They family says they sent letters to OSHA and the Labor Department requesting that the death scene materials be kept private and did not receive a response for nearly 11 months.
The organizations then acknowledged that they had released a video and that the video summary had not been redacted, and OSHA’s Tampa Area director “testified that the release of the Death Video Summary to FOIA requesters without redacting the summary was a mistake,” according to the complaint.
The family calls OSHA’s release of the materials arbitrary and capricious, indefensible and contrary to law. They claim the agency’s negligence deprived them of any meaningful pre-disclosure opportunity to assert their privacy interests.
OSHA found SeaWorld had committed several violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. A hearing for those allegations is set for Sept. 19.
OSHA specifically reserves the right to exhibit death scene materials at the hearing. The family asked that that part of the hearing be closed to the public and media.
The family is represented by George Coe, with Boies, Schiller & Flexner.