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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Friday, August 27, 2010 1:31 PM
Jeff's avatar

Lord Gonchar said:
"I saw something bad" shouldn't be grounds for a lawsuit.

EDIT - that sounds like I'm making the distinction again, but I can't find a better way of saying it.

Yes, you are, but that's OK. :) We don't get to decide what grounds are for a lawsuit, but I still don't believe there's a distinction here. I doubt very much that a judge would toss the suit out.


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

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Friday, August 27, 2010 1:37 PM
Carrie M.'s avatar

But he's not. The distinction he's making is experiencing trauma from the fear that you yourself are in imminent danger vs experiencing trauma because you witness someone else being in imminent danger.


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

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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:23 PM
sws's avatar

I doubt very much that a judge would toss the suit out.

And hopefully the judge will let this go to trial to answer the question. There appears to be a very strong divide concerning this case and thus a trial would seem warranted to answer the question. Given the litigious society in which we live, I cannot believe this has not come up previously. I would assume there is legal precedence from previous cases. GoBucks, I assume you are a lawyer based on you previous posts. How have the courts ruled previously on similar cases?

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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:34 PM

Aamilj said:
It has never entered your mind that this animal could injure the trainer?

Well, of course. As with anything else in life, there is always a tiny chance of something going wrong. But that's certainly not the reason why I take my child.

Does anybody know who manufactured this orca? I bet if you look under the dorsal fin, it says, "INTAWHALE". ;)


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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:42 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

Stupid Intawhale!


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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:51 PM
Jeff's avatar

Carrie M. said:
The distinction he's making is experiencing trauma from the fear that you yourself are in imminent danger vs experiencing trauma because you witness someone else being in imminent danger.

Does it matter if you have a reasonable expectation that you won't endure said trauma?

sws said:
Given the litigious society in which we live...

What does this mean, and what is it based on? I seem to recall reading somewhere (and I can't find the link) that while class action suits are on the rise, the number of civil suits brought by individuals has been on a steady decline for years. And a remarkably small single-digit percentage ever actually see a court room.

I don't even know anyone who has sued someone else. Anecdotal, sure, but how many people do you know?

And frankly, the statistic is meaningless anyway, because it doesn't measure the validity of this particular claim.


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

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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:51 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Carrie M. said:
The distinction he's making is experiencing trauma from the fear that you yourself are in imminent danger vs experiencing trauma because you witness someone else being in imminent danger.

That's a much better way of putting it. Thank you. I couldn't come to an explanation like that no matter how hard I tried. :)

That's much closer to expressing the concept in my head, Jeff.

The park did nothing to the boy beyond happening to be the place where 'stuff' went down.

Would they be at fault for other random acts? Like a plane crash in the middle of the park or a meteor falling on someone or some other sudden unforeseeable act that might be witnessed second-hand by other guests?

It's a shame the boy was there, that the accident happened and that he's suffering because of it, but that still doesn't make it anyone's fault that he saw it.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:53 PM
Jeff's avatar

Again, the park has no control over cosmic events, or precedent that the park is prone to cosmic events. They do have a whale that already killed someone. It's not a random act at all, and that's exactly what they'll argue.


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

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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:55 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:
Does it matter if you have a reasonable expectation that you won't endure said trauma?

1. How far can one hide behind "reasonable expectation" in their claims? (honest question)

2. I'm still not sure SeaWorld cause the trauma. The accident caused the trauma. You can't sue an accident.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 2:59 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

We're posting around each other. :)

Jeff said:
Again, the park has no control over cosmic events, or precedent that the park is prone to cosmic events. They do have a whale that already killed someone. It's not a random act at all, and that's exactly what they'll argue.

Like I said to GoBucks, I get it. I've always gotten it.

I disagree with it on a couple of levels, mostly in that witnessing an incident creates a secondary incident of liability.

If the courts find that way, that's a shame.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 3:01 PM

If you get it, then why ask the question about whether they would be liable for a plane crash or meteor?

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Friday, August 27, 2010 3:07 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Because those, to me, are as random as this whale attack. I'm drawing a comparison to other random things. It was a hypothetical question.

The family would likely argue this wasn't random. SeaWorld would likely argue it was.

Again, we're throwing our opinions out there. I'm simply finding ways to express mine. I chose to compare to other random acts of the universe. :)

Thanks for the concern though.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar, Friday, August 27, 2010 3:07 PM
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Friday, August 27, 2010 3:59 PM

I go back to mlnems post about the roller coaster accident. Obviously, the people in the trains had a solid cause of action against the park. But, should the people on the platform who were waiting for the trains, who were uninjured, be able to sue for tauma? How about the people who were on the midway who could see a portion of what happend but not all of it? How about he people at the games booth across the midway who heard the accident and are haunted by the sounds of exploding wood and the screams of the injured?

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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:15 PM

I disagree that we all have a reasonable expectation that a wild whale will not attack. I think reasonable expectations are that such events are extremely rare. Sadly, the rare event happened. If you do not want to subjugate your child to the very small chance that they might see a wild animal act like a wild animal, then do not take them to a wild animal show. If you believe that Sea World is negligent, then the very same argument can be said for the parents. Sea World knew, just like the parents knew that there is always a small chance wild animals will not follow the script, and in worst case, death will happen.

Is anybody arguing that the parents, in this case, never knew or thought about what happens when things go wrong?

I will concede that "the whale did it before" gives the case a weak argument. But I do not believe that such possible negligence on Sea World's behalf trumps the parents negligence (filming and not covering the kids eyes, etc).

That is what Sea World's lawyers will argue...

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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:21 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

...if they decide to argue at all. I figure they'll more likely settle out of court because it could be cheaper. Depends on if they feel that will open them up to more litigation or not.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:21 PM

I know when I go to a baseball game with my kids ther there is a small chance a foul ball will come into the crowd and hit my kid and possibly kill him. As a parent, I can choose whether the risk is worth the award. If a rare tragic event happens, it is not the fault of the baseball club. It is just a terrible accident.

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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:40 PM
Jeff's avatar

Lord Gonchar said:
How far can one hide behind "reasonable expectation" in their claims? (honest question)

An honestly loaded question. :) There's no hiding going on, the courts decide it either exists or it doesn't.

wahoo skipper said:
But, should the people on the platform who were waiting for the trains, who were uninjured, be able to sue for tauma?

Again, the devil is in the details. No one saw anyone die in that coaster accident.

You have to separate the emotional response of whether or not it's right or just or whatever from what the courts will want to hear. The first question is, was the boy harmed? I think we can agree that yes, it was like he was, and I'm sure expert witnesses will testify to that. The second question is, was SeaWorld in some way negligent in a way that led to the boy being harmed. That's the harder question to answer, but that's where the action will be if the case actually goes to trial. Meteors and highway accidents have nothing to do with it.

My guess is this: Because they had an animal known to be violent toward humans, there was some reasonable expectation that it could hurt or kill a trainer, in front of people. (To be clear, this is not an expectation shared with the general public, who probably knows the animals as "Shamu" only.) SeaWorld's response to that will be that they've studied these animals for decades, they have extensive safety protocols in place, etc. The plaintiffs will argue whatever issues were associated with the OSHA fine to demonstrate that SeaWorld's experience and protocol was inadequate.

An actual attorney could probably solidify those arguments, so who knows where it might lead. I don't believe it's cut-and-dry at all, and especially not because the parents are allegedly ambulance-chasing douchebags.


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

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Friday, August 27, 2010 4:47 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

No one saw anyone die in that coaster accident.

So someone has to witness someone die before they can claim they're emotionally damaged? I'm sure an expert witness would testify someone could be harmed by watching a terrible accident where people didn't die too.


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Friday, August 27, 2010 5:10 PM
Jeff's avatar

Again, why are you trying to make all of these absolute distinctions? If it were really as simple as writing down the perfect and absolute criteria, there would be no case and we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Details. Matter.


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

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Friday, August 27, 2010 5:24 PM

sws -- I am a lawyer. But I don't practice personal injury law and am not even a litigator. My knowledge of negligence claims is limited to the tort class I took my first year of law school almost 20 years ago. But the standards will vary from state to state and sometimes within states. I don't know how well established Florida law is on this issue. Not much help, I know. But if commercial finance issues are at issue, I can provide more help. :)

LG -- I wasn't concerned. Just trying to better understand your views on this issue. I thought that was the purpose of the discussions going on in this thread (airchair, armchair, whatever). Maybe not.

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