Zoo-Related Incidents and Injuries – The Aftermath of Harambe
On Saturday, a 3-year-old boy crawled through a barrier and entered a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. While the boy was splashing and walking around in a moat, a 17-year-old male lowland gorilla, Harambe, picked the boy up and dragged him through the exhibit. Upon the zoo’s determination that the situation was life-threatening, the animal response team fired a gunshot, killing Harambe. The child was hospitalized with injuries and later released from the hospital (http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/hamilton-county/cincinnati/gorilla-attacked-child-who-fell-into-zoo-exhibit-child-hospitalized?autoplay=true).
In the days following this incident, many debates have emerged in the media on topics ranging from the supervision of young children to the safety and security of zoo enclosures. Other discussions have focused on the protection of endangered animals and the ethics behind whether our society should be engaged in keeping animals in captivity at all. While these questions are contemplated, the research pertaining to zoo-related lawsuits indicates that vigilance is warranted.
In Scott v. Zoo New England, et al., 2007 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 45271, and 2007 MA Jury Verdicts Review LEXIS 601, a gorilla climbed out of his cage, attacked a two-year-old girl and her babysitter, and terrorized a neighborhood before being subdued. The girl was awarded $175,000. Another case, Dhaliwal v. San Francisco Zoological Society, et al., 2009 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 422310, involved a tiger escape with a tragic outcome. Three zoo visitors were mauled by a Siberian tiger that had escaped her enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo, and one of the visitors was killed. While the visitors were purportedly taunting the tiger before the attack, the zoo settled the case with the two surviving visitors for $900,000.
Patrons should also take precautions when interacting with animals at zoos. For example, a woman’s hand was crushed when she tried to pet a buffalo at a zoo in Kimberly S. Hall v. Casa de Fruta Orchards, Inc., 2004 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 47980. A petting zoo settled with a two-year-old girl’s family for $2.2 million after she contracted E. coli while coming into contact with the animals. Malos, et al. v. Great American Petting Zoo, et al., 201 Mealey’s CA Jury Verdicts & Settlements 12. See also, Natalio v. McClelland dba McClelland Zoo, 2009 AL Civil Trial Rptr. LEXIS 1671 (minor’s arm ripped open by the claws of a wild animal at a zoo).
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