The Orlando area has many top-rated zoos and aquariums. The list includes Seaworld in Orlando, Exotic Animal Experience in Wedgefield, and the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford, along with many others. When families visit these parks, they have the fair expectation that they will be kept safe from unreasonable dangers. As such, zoos are legally required to protect patrons from any foreseeable safety hazards. This includes dangers posed by animals, zoo employees, property defects and even from dangers posed by third-party actors.
When Can a Zoo Be Held Liable? A Tale of Two Injury Claims
In 2008, a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo escaped from its cage and mauled two brothers along with their 17-year-old friend. Unfortunately, the 17-year-old was killed in the attack. The brothers were able to escape with only minor injuries. Recognizing that they would be held liable for the incident, the zoo reached an out-of-court settlement with the brothers for $900,000. The zoo also reached a wrongful death settlement with the deceased boy’s parents for an undisclosed amount. According to reporting, the tiger escaped because it was in a substandard enclosure. Keeping a dangerous animal in substandard enclosure constitutes negligence. Any resulting injuries after an escape are no doubt reasonably foreseeable.
On the other hand, in the 2004 case of Cherney v. North Carolina Zoological Park, a Court of Appeal found that a North Carolina zoo was not liable for serious injuries caused by a falling tree. In that case, a woman sustained broken ribs, a broken femur, and fractured vertebra after being struck by the tree when it fell at the zoo’s African Pavilion. After assessing the case, the court determined that the zoo could not be held liable because the weight of the evidence indicated that the zoo was not negligent. More specifically, the court found that the falling tree was not reasonably foreseeable. In the view of the court, the zoo’s grounds crew did all they could have done to monitor and maintain the tree.
The Three Keys to Assessing a Zoo Injury Claim
Ultimately, a zoo injury claim, like most other premises liability claims, will hinge on the presence of negligence. Regardless of how your injuries occurred, there are three basic issues that must be considered:
- What standard of care was owed? The standard of care always matters. A zoo owes a much higher standard of care to its paying customers than it does to trespassers.
- Was the injury reasonably foreseeable? As was highlighted in the North Carolina falling tree case, courts will generally only hold zoos liable for injuries that could have reasonably been foreseen. If the zoo knew or should have known about a safety hazard, they can potentially be held liable.
- Could the zoo have done anything differently? Finally, courts will also consider the actions the zoo took and whether they could have taken any additional measures that would have prevented the injuries. If the zoo could have reasonably reduced the injury risk but failed to do so, they may be held responsible.
Contact Our Office Today
At The Benenati Law Firm, our Central Florida personal injury attorneys have represented many people who have been injured at amusement parks, including at Orlando area zoos. If you have been injured at a zoo, please contact our team today to set up a fully confidential review of your case. We serve victims throughout the Orlando region, including in Seminole County, Orange County, and Lake County.