Eckis v. Sea World Corporation Et Al.

134 Cal. Rptr. 183 (1976)


When injured on April 19, 1971, P was a full-time employee of D. P started to work there in 1967 and in 1970 became the secretary for Kent Burgess, the director of P's animal training department. P's job title was secretary, but she also did tasks such as taking the water temperature, doing research and running errands. She worked five days a week, for which she was paid a salary of $450 per month. P had signed an authorization for the reproduction of her physical likeness when she started working at D. P was also an excellent swimmer, with some scuba diving experience, and had occasionally worked as a model, sometimes for pay. MacLaughlin, D's public relations director, and Kent Burgess asked P if she would like to ride Shamu, the killer whale, in a bikini for some publicity pictures for Sea World. P eagerly agreed, thinking it would be exciting. P was warned in general terms that the ride involved dangers and aware that she might fall off, P was confident of her swimming ability and anxious to do it. She had never heard of whales pushing riders around. Burgess knew Shamu was conditioned to being ridden only by persons wearing wetsuits, and that Shamu had in the past attacked persons who attempted to ride her in an ordinary bathing suit. Burgess had read training records which showed Shamu had been behaving erratically since early March 1971. This information he did not disclose to P. P practiced riding Kilroy, a smaller, more docile whale while wearing a bathing suit. During her one practice session on Shamu, she wore a wetsuit, fell off, but swam to the edge of the tank without incident. P became apprehensive when one of D's trainers said he was not going to watch her ride Shamu because it was 'really dangerous.' Burgess told her not to worry, said there was nothing to be concerned about, and that the ride was 'as safe as it could be.' He still did not tell her about the problems they had been having with Shamu or about the earlier incidents involving other swimsuit models. P wearing the bikini took three rides on Shamu. During the second ride Shamu's tail was fluttering, a sign the animal was upset. During the third ride, P fell off when Shamu refused to obey a signal. Shamu then bit her on her legs and hips and held her in the tank until she could be rescued. P suffered 18 to 20 wounds which required from 100 to 200 stitches and left permanent scars. She was hospitalized five days and out of work for several weeks. She also suffered some psychological disturbance. D paid all her medical expenses and continued to pay her salary as usual during this period. P filed this civil action and a workers' compensation claim. Ds appealed from a judgment entered on a jury verdict awarding P $75,000 in compensatory damages. P's complaint was for fraud, negligence, and liability for an animal with vicious or dangerous propensities. D appealed claiming that P’s injuries were covered under California’s Worker’s Compensation Act.