Friday, December 28, 2007

Torts at the Zoo

As you have probably heard, a tiger named Tatiana escaped from the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas day, killing a teenager and wounding two other people.  I haven't done the research into California law or even plotted out my own analysis, but the issues involved seem truly interesting (maybe even exam-worthy).

First, you have the escape of a wild animal, one of the few areas of law clearly governed by strict liability.  However, to complicate matters, some courts have been unwilling to use strict liability against a public zoo.  Because it is a public entity, there are also potential issues of sovereign immunity. 

Assuming you get by strict liability and sovereign immunity, a negligence analysis promises to be rich.  First, there is the issue of the height of the wall enclosing Tatiana.  It appears the wall is four feet below industry standards.  However, the zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the accreditation inspectors visiting three years ago did not note the wall as a deficiency. 

Then there is the fact that Tatiana attacked a zoo keeper and chewed flesh off of his arm during a public feeding last year.  Is this notice that Tatiana was dangerous?

Finally, the investigation is looking into the possibility that Tatiana escaped by climbing up a leg or other body part to get over the wall.  There are unconfirmed rumors that the victim may have been dangling his legs over the wall and taunting Tatiana.  Whether that is true or not, it would make for an interesting comparative negligence discussion.   

Your thoughts?

--CJR

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