Monday, April 27, 2009

Strict Liability for animal attacks

Last February I saw two stories related to animal attacks. Instead of posting them then, I saved them until now when we covered strict liability for damages caused by animals in our class. The first story, originally published in the Miami Herald, about a snake attack in a Wal-mart store: "Wal-Mart is full of signs highlighting low prices, but there should be another warning customers that they might be attacked by snakes on the premises, a bitten shopper says." Note that this particular claim is not for strict liability. Do you see why? The second story is more dramatic and involved a brutal attack by a 14 year old/200 pound chimpanzee in Samford, Connecticut. The chimpanzee was someone's pet and, reportedly, "a veteran of TV commercials who could dress himself, drink wine from a glass and use the toilet." The victim lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids in the 12-minute mauling. Many bones in her face were crushed, and the attack may also have left her blind and brain damaged. Do you think that the fact that the animal was a household pet and trained means the analysis should be the one we use when other, more common, pets attack? Or, does the fact that the animal is an ape, in and of itself, means we should follow the analysis related to a "wild animal'? Interestingly, in this particular case the question was irrelevant because there were reports that the chimp had exhibited violent behavior in the past and that the owner had been warned about it. About a month after the attack, while the victim was still in critical condition, her family filed a lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages against the primate's owner, saying she was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control ''a wild animal with violent propensities.''

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