Monday, January 14, 2008

Liability in the California Tiger Attack Case

The San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting article earlier this week dealing with liability in the Christmas Day tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo. The story notes that the law normally views the keeping of wild animals like tigers as an inherently dangerous practice, like hauling dynamite or storing uranium. The legal doctrine of strict liability punishes a dangerous animal's keeper for any damages caused by the animal regardless of the circumstances. However, as the article notes, there are always exceptions to the rule. The article addresses a number of permutations on how a lawsuit might play out.

As an aside, the case of first impression in Florida on strict liability for animal attacks was
Isaacs v. Powell, 267 So.2d 864 (Fla. 2d DCA 1972). While the facts of the case involved a chimpanzee, the court mentioned tigers in zoos in a quote from Prosser on torts:
(Liability) has been thought to rest on the basis of negligence in keeping the animal at all; but this does not coincide with the modern analysis of negligence as conduct which is unreasonable in view of the risk, since it may not be an unreasonable thing to keep a tiger in a zoo. It is rather an instance of the strict responsibility placed upon those who, even with proper care, expose the community to the risk of a very dangerous thing. While one or two jurisdictions insist that there is no liability without some negligence in keeping the animal, by far the greater number impose strict liability.'

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