Family of boy who saw Brancheau drowning at SeaWorld Orlando sues park

Posted Thursday, August 26, 2010 12:38 PM | Contributed by Jeff

The family of a New Hampshire 10-year-old who watched a killer whale batter and drown a trainer at SeaWorld has filed suit against the amusement park, the Daily News has learned. Todd and Suzanne Connell, who took their son Bobby to Florida in February to celebrate his 10th birthday, say the boy looked straight into Dawn Brancheau's eyes as the doomed trainer briefly freed herself from the orca's jaws.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 7:49 PM
mlnem4s's avatar

For what it's worth....I believe in the Orlando Sentinel it is being reported the family's lawyer in March tried to get a huge cash settlement out of SeaWorld or else they were going to go on the Oprah Winfrey show and "tell all."

If this can be verified, it again is further proof that they deserve nothing more than reimbursement for counseling services for their son, period.

(Edit: Yes it was the OS, here is the link where it is claimed they were asking for a settlement or else going on Oprah: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/os-traumatized-boy-sues-seaworld-20100826,0,945272.story )

Last edited by mlnem4s, Thursday, August 26, 2010 8:23 PM
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Thursday, August 26, 2010 8:11 PM
Carrie M.'s avatar

Lord Gonchar said:
I was at my neighbors house shooting the breeze and he was trimming his hedges. He lost focus for a minute and cut his hand off. I'm suing him for negligence because I now have nightmares about the incident.

Except we would know you are lying because you're not a 'shoot the breeze' kind of guy. I say it never happened. :)

I wonder if it matters legally at all when the incident occurred. Since it didn't happen during the course of the show when guests were there to be entertained, but rather happened after the show during the course of regular training and orca interaction...does that change anything from a legal standpoint?

I mean you can argue the emotional indignation of what was unarguably a traumatic experience all day long. But generally speaking, one can only sue when there has been a legal infraction of some kind. I wonder if there was one. It's interesting to say the least.

But yeah, I'm thinking there will be a settlement as that's how these things go and I'm not sure I think that's a bad thing. But I will say, I have a harder time supporting the idea that someone witnessing the event (and taping it no less) is entitled when Dawn's own family isn't suing. (Of course, I'm assuming they aren't, but don't really know.) If they don't believe there was a fault involved, why should anyone else?


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 8:12 PM
sws's avatar

First off, I feel sorry for the boy, I really do. I feel sorry for the family of the killed trainer, the Sea World co-workers, and everyone who witnessed the event. I feel sorry for the captive orca who was just doing what nature had taught him to do.

However I have a problem with the parents. We hear about all of these silly lawsuits. "Donald Duck goosed me, so now I have PTSD." "I had a stroke two weeks after riding Tower of Terror, so therefore it's Disney's fault." Everybody's trying to make a quick buck.

When I googled "Suzanne Connell," I found a couple of articles shortly after the accident. I did not find the Oprah reference however.

"I see the trainer's face when I try to sleep at night." Then stop watching your video.
"My son can't forget the accident." Then stop trying to give interviews to the media that constantly remind him of it.

I've known many patients with true PTSD from severe traumatic events that have devastated their lives, and I am very sympathetic to those people.

Maybe once all of the facts come out at the hearing, I will be more sympathetic to the parents. Right now I am skeptical. I hope they prove me wrong.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 8:18 PM
sws's avatar

Sorry to double post.

I also love how the parents now say the orca should be returned to nature, yet I read that this family has gone to Sea World four years in a row. If it upsets you to see orcas in captivity, stop spending your money at Sea World. Instead, find a good therapist for your son, and yes I agree it would be a good gesture for SW to pay for some of the therapy.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:12 PM

Almost 20 years ago I was at The Beach Waterpark by Kings Island (is that still there?). They had a wave pool located right next to a highway. I was standing with a friend when a car crashed right in our sight. My friend and I hopped the fence to help the passenger as the car was on fire and we were literally the two people closest to the guy. We could not help him because the heat was too intense. We literally saw (and smelled) a person die. I've NEVER been able to get this scenario out of my mind, or nose.

As a side note, I cut my foot on the fence and have a scar to this day.

It never dawned on me to sue The Beach for negligence. I mean they did build a waterpark next to a highway. They should have known their guests might be subjugated to accidents. They should have built a fence without sight lines so I would not see the tragedy.

I am with those people who believe one ought naught sue for observing tragedy. The trainer's family has a right. The guests were not physically damaged. I think it should be thrown out of court.

I feel compassion for the child. I also feel compassion for innocent victims of frivolous lawsuits. If a suit such as this was able to succeed. Then there could be no limits on which any lawsuit could be levied.

I've no problem with a reasonable law/standard that says one cannot sue for "mental anguish" based upon observing accidents.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:39 PM
sws's avatar

Carrie M. said:


But I will say, I have a harder time supporting the idea that someone witnessing the event (and taping it no less) is entitled when Dawn's own family isn't suing. (Of course, I'm assuming they aren't, but don't really know.) If they don't believe there was a fault involved, why should anyone else?

Carrie they did say this in the article:

"Brancheau's widowed husband, Scott, is reportedly planning a wrongful-death suit."


I certainly support her husband's suit based on the facts that have been made public thus far. Not that my opinion matters on these things.

Last edited by sws, Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:40 PM
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Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:46 PM
Carrie M.'s avatar

Oops... I got caught skimming. :)


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:05 PM
sws's avatar

Shhh, we won't tell anyone. ;)

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:06 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Carrie M. said:
Except we would know you are lying because you're not a 'shoot the breeze' kind of guy. I say it never happened. :)

Shuddup, Carrie! :)


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Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:36 PM

My problem with the whole thing is the "it's all about me" attitude going on. She looked directly into my son's eyes! This is based on what? The video you continued to film instead of worrying about your son? Why did you sit there and continue to watch if you thought it was traumatic? A person is dead, but we're the real victims here. Seriously?

Here's my suggestion to help the family forget about the SeaWorld accident. Go to Pakistan and help some families who lost everything in the recent flooding there. Go talk to a mother whose child was killed by an errant bullet while playing in the street in front of her house. Never mind. Seeing bad stuff isn't part of their plan, is it?

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:46 PM

Lord Gonchar said:

GoBucks89 said:
And it seems to me that you need to have the official/actual story before you can make that determination rather than just airchairing it on a coaster site.

I suppose. Not sure why it has to be complicated.

Much of life is. The devil is in the details for a reason.

I'm not sure you can sell me on any scenario where witnessing another person's (or company's) horrible tragedy play out is grounds for me being able to, in turn, sue them for happening to witness that tragedy go down.

The elements of a cause of action for negligence are duty of care, breach of duty, causation and damage. In many instances there is no duty and so there can be no successful claim for negligence. Seems to me that SeaWorld owes a duty of care to its paying customers. Whether they breached that duty would depend on an analysis of what happened, what SW knew, steps that could be/were taken to prevent it, etc.

Causation requires the breach of duty to have caused the harm. And you ask whether the damages that were caused by the breach of duty were foreseeable. Clearly had the breach happened during a show open to the public, SW would have reason to know that customers could be affected. It may still be foreseeable outside of a show if customers are allowed to watch what trainers and the animals do between shows. My guess is that with respect to this case, juries would be quicker to find causation if more than simple negligence is involved. To the extent SW was grossly negligent or willful in its conduct, I would expect a jury would be more likely to find causation.

You have to go through the same analysis if there are physical injuries. My guess is that more people would think that SeaWorld should have liability if the son had been physically injured by the chain of events that happened (assuming SW's negligence caused said chain of events).

I just can't fathom any scenario where something SeaWorld did caused that boy to witness the accident the park endured.

(Now whether they were at fault for the accident in the first place is an entirely different story and it's trying to connect that fault to this that loses me)

SeaWorld's attorneys would do what they could to have as many folks who think you like do on the jury. The family's attorneys would do everything they could to exclude folks who think like you from the jury.

And I am not saying that I think the family has a winning case here. Biggest issue I have with what I have heard to date is why they let their son watch as long as they apparently did. My wife and I do what we can to keep our kids from seeing that which they shouldn't see. Sometimes in situations where we are not in control, things happen that our kids should not see. In those instances, our kids may see something start but do not see whatever it is end because we pull them away, distract them, cover their eyes, etc. From what I understand, this was not a captive situation where the family was forced to stay and witness what was happening because they had no ability to escape. From what I have seen, the parents should have been able to see that what was happening was not good and moved their son away from the tank and taken him to a gift shop. And had he only briefly witnessed what happened, I suspect its much less likely that he would have been as traumatized by what happened. I expect that will be addressed in the suit/settlement discussions.

To me, the claims being raised here should be treated like all other negligence claims. If the elements are met, damages should be paid. If not, they shouldn't. There should be issues with respect to proving damages because its difficult to determine what the damages actually are but that is true with respect to other types of damages in negligence cases as well. Can people sue anyone for negligence? I suppose. But in reality, they don't.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:58 PM
sirloindude's avatar

I'm curious where the line would be drawn if this suit is won by the plaintiffs. I mean, by their logic, I could sue CNN because they showed footage of a plane crash or something and it really bothered me.

As much as I hate rushing to a judgment, seriously, I don't see in what way SeaWorld owes this lady or her kid anything.


13 Boomerang, 9 SLC, and 8 B-TR clones

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 11:17 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

GoBucks89 said:

The elements of a cause of action for negligence are duty of care, breach of duty, causation and damage.

(a whole bunch of stuff removed for the sake of brevity - LG)

Can people sue anyone for negligence? I suppose. But in reality, they don't.

Yeah, I get all of that. I don't think anyone is questioning their right to sue or the process of the courts and trial.

We're doing the job of the courts, playing armchair jurors, lawyers and judges and having conversation sharing our personal takes on the situation.

My take is that there's absolutely nothing you could present that makes me think someone has a valid case for suit in a situation where they see something tragic happen and then sue the person (or company) that had the tragic thing happen to them because they saw it.

It's a bystander suing a victim for seeing something horrible happen to that victim.

This seems no less absurd to me than trying to sue Brancheau's family for Dawn being neglectful in some way and causing their kid to see such a tragic situation unfold.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 12:35 AM
Jeff's avatar

@Aamilj: Your comparison is not valid. What happens outside of The Beach on the road is not in The Beach's control, and there's no reasonable expectation that it would be. Being in a show venue in SeaWorld where something bad happens is exactly the opposite.

If the Oprah thing is true, isn't that extortion?

Gonch: I think you're still making a distinction between physical and mental injury, and in both cases, you have the reasonable expectation that you will not endure either one when you visit a theme park. GoBucks89 outlined the elements that generally have to be present in order to win a case where you claim you've been harmed, and it doesn't seem that far fetched that the plaintiffs could win. Whether they're extortionist bastards really doesn't particularly matter, unfortunately. But again, I don't think it's right to make the distinction between physical and mental injury.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

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Friday, August 27, 2010 1:28 AM
sws's avatar

Gonch, I find the "airtime" video of that horrific accident that you've posted on your blog to be very disturbing. I had a nightmare last night. You'll hear from my lawyer in the morning. GoBucks, what's your retaining fee?

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Friday, August 27, 2010 1:51 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:
I think you're still making a distinction between physical and mental injury...

No, not really.

I don't know if the kid is messed up. He very well may be. I'm not debating that. I don't know and I don't think it's unreasonable to say he suffered severe mental injury. He probably was.

Still doesn't make the suit any more valid to me. And I think we all have reasonable expectations of not seeing this kind of thing everywhere we go, but sometimes you stumble into the wrong place at the wrong time. Life isn't perfect.

Saying it for the umpteenth time, but...

Feels wrong to happen to be in a place to witness something like this go down and then blame the victims for your seeing it.

Trying to place blame here feels icky.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:17 AM
Jeff's avatar

But if you fail to make that distinction, but would readily agree that the Lassiters, for example, were entitled to compensation when a ride cut off her feet, then how you can claim this is any less valid? Whether you see it or feel it is exactly the distinction I'm talking about, and you're making it.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:49 AM
Acoustic Viscosity's avatar

I have the "reasonable expectation" that no matter where I go and no matter how many precautions are taken, bad stuff can happen. That's just the way it is.

Sorry to the kid. I hope he gets the help he needs, but it really sucks if the only way that can happen is by suing Sea World just because legally they can. It would be a great moment of good will for them to lend a hand, but they shouldn't be obligated to do so. It wasn't their fault. The only way this could have been absolutely prevented was if they didn't have the show at all. Any reasonable, thinking human should be able to come to that conclusion.


AV Matt
Long live the Big Bad Wolf

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Friday, August 27, 2010 5:44 AM

sirloindude said:
I'm curious where the line would be drawn if this suit is won by the plaintiffs. I mean, by their logic, I could sue CNN because they showed footage of a plane crash or something and it really bothered me.

Its been 20+ years but I am pretty sure CNN had a lawsuit filed against over that network showing that 1989 United Airlines flight crashing on an Iowa runway because some viewer ( I believe in New Mexico but could be wrong ) was bothered and "loss sleep and work time", thanks to the person watching the plane crash. I am pretty sure that suit was thrown out of court as I don't recall ever hearing about since shortly after that crash. Usually that is the case when one files a lawsuit against the media..its trown out and forgot about such as the woman who had filed a lawsuit against CBS and her local CBS station because she was "upset & outraged..and did it for her children" all over that less than a second shot of Janet Jackson's boob during the Superbowl

On the flip side there was that live TV suicide of Pennyslvania's Budd Dwyer, Again it has been many years ( the suicide had taken place in 1987 ) but I am pretty sure at least one local Pennsylvania station was sued and did had to pay because they kept showing and showing and showing on their newscast the scene where Dwyer puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. I think the argument used was at one showing..OK it wasn't planned and it was LIVE.but to repeat showing such a graphic image over and over...that was a bit much. Anyway something tells me that even here it wouldn't work today.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 6:07 AM

Jeff said:
Knowledge or not, I would expect people to have a little more basic human compassion before rushing to judgment.

I do have compassion. For the child. This kid should have been getting actual treatment, from an actual doctor. Instead, while Mommy & Daddy were off shopping their gruesome video to media outlets, they sent this child, who is supposedly so horrendously traumatized, to the freaking school counselor. That is beyond shameful. If, as they claim, the kid is so traumatized, why weren't they seeking out proper medical care?

As I said before, perhaps there are a lot of facts not in that article. But if not, I think it's pretty clear this family is in it for the money. Not that I think they won't get it, but still.


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