The consumer lawsuits against Sea World were the subject of an earlier LBN report. Sea World is contesting the litigation, and the company might have a very good chance of prevailing in all of the lawsuits. Florida law professor Lyrissa Lidsky, a tort law expert, discusses the problems with the litigation in this report.
The main claim against Sea World, says Prof. Lidsky, is that “everyone who went to Sea World within a certain time frame was affirmatively misled by the company.” The complaint is that ticket purchasers were defrauded of their ticket price because they were not told how Sea World treats its animals. That amounts to millions of people.
The problem, according to Prof. Lidsky, is whether it was fraudulent not to have disclosed everything that the plaintiffs are claiming should have been disclosed. Some of the claims are based on opinion as to how the animals were treated, as opposed to hard facts that everyone could agree to.
Prof. Lidsky does not see other lawsuits that might be looked at as a guide to the outcome of these cases because the claims here are not that Sea World told lies to its customers, but rather that the company failed to disclose matters that the plaintiffs in these lawsuits consider important. (One such lawsuit was very recently dropped by the plaintiff who filed it.) Prof. Lidsky opines that the information in question would not have affected the decision to purchase tickets, or not, for “many, many consumers.” In these cases, the plaintiffs are not saying that they purchased tickets relying on statements by Sea World but rather because of things Sea World did not say, and for that reason they sustained monetary damages.
Professor Lidsky believes it unlikely that these cases will ever reach trial. At the threshold of a class action suit, a judge has to certify that members of the proposed class—millions of people—all had the same interests and all would have decided not to go to Sea World if only certain disclosures had been made. Sea World’s interest in fighting these lawsuits is protecting its brand, which has been under attack since the movie Blackfish came out. “The lawsuit itself is really about getting out the message that Sea World is not treating its animals as animal rights activists would want them to be treated.
Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky is the Stephen C. O'Connell Professor & Associate Dean for International Programs at the Levin College of Law, University of Florida. She as written three casebooks, among other publications. Her teaching and scholarship areas are Torts, Advanced Torts (specializing in Defamation and Invasion of Privacy), Mass Media Law, Internet Speech, Jurisprudence, First Amendment Law and Social Media, Freedom of Speech, Cyberbullying. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.