The 2013 movie Blackfish focused attention on the treatment of orcas in Sea World parks. Now, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment has been sued in a class action filed in federal court in Florida. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of South Carolina resident Joyce Kuhl, seeks damages for the alleged mistreatment of the sea mammals by the park. Plaintiff’s attorney Paul Rothstein discusses the lawsuit in this report.
Rothstein explains that the plaintiff in this lawsuit is not an animal activist. She is, he says, a mainstream animal lover living in South Carolina. She would never have purchased a $97 ticket to Sea World had she known about how the whales are treated by the Sea World park, according to Rothstein.
The thrust of the lawsuit, says Rothstein, is that “the information regarding the treatment of these whales needs to be [disclosed to prospective buyers] before people purchase those tickets for Sea World.” Customers need to have a material understanding of the environment in which the animals are kept. The putative class of plaintiffs is people who have bought Sea World tickets in the last four years. Rothstein does not categorize the lawsuit by its damage potential, but the amount of reimbursement could be as much as $2 billion. This is not the only lawsuit that SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is facing.
Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act provides that a material omission is actionable, Rothstein explains, and that is the basis of the lawsuit—that SeaWorld has failed to tell prospective customers of how it treats its whales. The orcas are highly social creatures, very intelligent, and their confinement denies them the things they need in order to live as they should. They should live in the ocean and be allowed to roam free. Captivity of any kind will not provide the orcas they right kind of life.
There are also allegations that the orcas are given anti-psychotic drugs in their confinement. Rothstein says that more information on this subject will come out as the lawsuit progresses. He believes that allegations to that effect will be substantiated as the lawsuit goes forward and depositions are taken.
Rothstein does not believe that success in this lawsuit would jeopardize zoos throughout the country. Orcas are different from other animals. Among other things, they will travel as much as 100 miles per day in the ocean, something that distinguishes them from most other animals. Another problem with the confinement of orcas is that their lives are considerably shorter than orcas in the wild.
The next step in the litigation will be the setting of a discovery schedule by the federal court.
Paul S. Rothstein is a trial attorney practicing law in Gainesville, Florida. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.