San Diego boasts one of the Nation’s best zoos, hosting about 3.2 million visitors, per year making it the most visited zoo in the United States. This year it celebrates its 100th birthday. Despite their best efforts, the San Diego Zoo has had its share of incidences and in 2013, a pair of hyenas escaped from an enclosure. It is thought that the animals jumped the fence. Fortunately, the zoo was quickly placed on lockdown and no one was injured.
This event occurred when people assumed the premises were designed to sufficiently protect their children and themselves from hazards. Additionally, modifications were made to the premises to make them more safe.
How Ownership Affects Your Premises Liability Case
The California Department of Fish and Game regulates private zoos in the state of California and requires the zoo to obtain a Restricted Species License before keeping wild animals as described therein. Largely, zoos regulated by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (“AZA”) are exempt from the licensing requirements promulgated by the Department of Fish and Game.
Private zoos are subject to strict liability standards when it comes to wild animals. Essentially, strict liability means that there is so much risk involved, an owner of a private zoo or petting zoo will be completely liable for harm done by their animals regardless of any negligence on the part of visitors.
Governmentally-operated zoos are not subject to these strict liability rules, meaning if someone is injured by one of the zoo animals or by an inappropriately-maintained area, the zoo can point to the zoo-goer’s negligence as a defense. For example, in a public zoo situation, the mother of the child could argue that the enclosure should have been more secure, but the zoo could defend itself by claiming that the mother was negligent in not keeping a better eye on her son.
If a zoo is not subject to strict liability rules, they can claim the following defenses:
- Governmental Immunity: A governmentally-run zoo enjoys the same immunity from tort liability as other government agencies.
- Contributory Negligence: Zoo patrons place themselves, through their own negligence, in a dangerous situation.
- Assumption of Risk: A zoo patron accepts the inherent risks of zoos.
These defenses are not absolute, however, and a knowledgeable personal injury legal team will be able to determine how the facts can overcome any defenses claimed by the zoo.
Who do I Hold Responsible for My Injuries?
In a premises liability action, there are many questions that arise even after you have determined to what kind of liability the zoo can be held for your personal injuries. The San Diego Zoo, for example, is owned by San Diego Zoo Global, a non-profit located in San Diego. Even if you know who operates the zoo, you need to know if there is a governmental agency that you must claim as a defendant as well as any agents tasked with keeping the premises safe. An agent can be held responsible for his or her own negligence in the event of a zoo incident. Including all responsible parties in a lawsuit is crucial to being made whole again.
We have used recent events as extreme examples of what can happen when patrons are on a park’s premises in close proximity to wild animals. These events are not as rare as it may seem and often times they are the result of poorly-maintained animal enclosures. A zoo has a duty to keep the premises safe for its patrons even though, to an extent, patrons assume some level of risk by going to the zoo.
Although the matter of defective animal enclosures is a big issue, when it comes to premises liability, you are much more likely to be injured because of a dilapidated sidewalk or a spill that should have been cleaned up.
What Do You Do if You are Injured at a Zoo?
If you have been injured on zoo premises because a zoo breached its duty to maintain a safe environment or neglected to maintain its exhibits, do not try to pursue action on your own. Even if your case seems simple and straightforward, sophisticated establishments and their insurance companies have the upper hand when dealing with a person who may not be well-versed in the law. Having an experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer assisting you can greatly increase your chances for financial recovery.
Injury Trial Lawyers, APC has the expertise and resources to handle every kind of premise liability case, even those that arise when you are injured at a zoo due to hazards involving wild animal enclosures. Please contact us today for a free consultation.