When Exotic Animals Attack – Can You Sue?

Attacks and injuries caused by domestic pets, mostly dogs of all sizes, have become so commonplace that most lay people have a general idea of how to proceed with an injury case. What happens when the animal in question is an exotic zoo creature, performer or pet? While laws may vary depending on where you live, the way the animal is housed and cared for, the actions of the victim and the circumstances of the attack should all be weighed before a lawsuit is filed.

One tiger, two lawsuits:

Tatiana, a Siberian tiger who lived at the San Diego Zoo, was responsible for two attacks – and one fatality. In December 2005, Tatiana bit a zookeeper who was caring for her; the keeper sued the zoo, settling with the insurance company. The reason for the lawsuit was unsafe working conditions; the keeper alleged that the zoo failed to maintain proper equipment, resulting in the mauling. While this lawsuit involved an animal and an injury, it was an on the job injury and technically an employment related lawsuit.

In the second tiger related case, Tatiana attacked and killed a zoo patron and wounded two of his companions. While eyewitnesses and evidence suggested that the young men in question were taunting the tiger prior to her escape, the zoo was once again sued and settled for damages. This highly publicized case also led to a re-examination of tiger and big cat enclosures at zoos across the country, to determine if enclosures were truly secure enough to hold an enraged or injured animal. The suit here was against the animal's owner (in this case the zoo) for failing to take precautions and to properly protect visitors from the big cat.

Exotic household pets

Travis, a 14 year old male chimpanzee kept as a pet by a Connecticut woman, weighed 200 pounds at the time he launched an attack on a household visitor and family friend. Cheryl Nash was visiting Travis's home when the chimp viciously attacked her, removing most of her face and critically injuring her. His 70-year-old owner was unable to stop the chimp from attacking. The victim survived and continues to receive facial reconstruction surgery and therapy; a lawsuit was filed against the owner of the renegade chimp. The suit was settled for $4 million after the chimp's owner passed away in 2010. Since the chimp was a pet, the suit proceeded much like a typical dog bite suit, albeit with more exotic details and different injuries.

If you have been injured by an exotic pet, zoo animal or animal performer, you have rights and can sue for your pain, suffering and damages. While the above cases made headlines, they are in no way unique; people are injured ever day by exotic reptiles, insects, big cats and primates kept as pets or in understaffed and insecure zoo settings. Contacting a personal injury attorney and providing the details of the attack and your injuries can give you a better idea of what to expect and if you have a viable case.  

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