Liability for Injuries by Exotic Animals

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 What Is the Standard of Liability for Animal Attacks?

The owner of an animal may be held liable for any resulting injuries that their animal caused when they attacked another person. The standard of liability for an animal attack will primarily depend on three factors:

  • The laws of the state in which the animal attack occurred;
  • The type of animal that carried out the attack; and
  • The facts of a particular case.

For example, the owner of a domesticated pet, such as a dog or cat, may only be held liable based on a standard of negligence. 

Again, the general standard of liability for domestic animals will depend on the state. For instance, in some states, a dog owner may be sued in civil court for negligence and could face assault charges in criminal court. This can happen when a dog owner knows that their dog is dangerous, fails to put them on a leash, and the dog attacks someone. 

Some states have even enacted statutes that are specifically designed to impose liability on owners of domesticated animals who are negligent in warning other persons about their pet’s potentially dangerous characteristics. This is especially true when it comes to state laws regarding liability for dog bites or attacks. Such statutes may also include exceptions or defenses to animal attack liability.

One other standard of liability that is often associated with animal attacks is when a person is the owner of a wild or illegal animal. For example, if a person is the owner of a wild tiger and lives in a jurisdiction where it is illegal to keep a pet tiger, then they could be held to a standard of strict liability if their tiger injures or attacks another person like a neighbor. 

If a person is held to a strict liability standard, it means that the person will become immediately responsible for the damages, regardless of whether the other party instigated the animal attack or not, and no matter how severe the injuries they suffered from the attack. 

What Is an Exotic Animal?

As previously mentioned, the exact definition of an exotic or wild animal will primarily depend on the state in which a person resides. In general, however, an exotic animal is usually a type of animal that can be found in the wild and is not normally kept as a house pet. 

This may include some kinds of poisonous snakes, jaguars, penguins, some species of bats, and crocodiles. Again, a minority of states (as in one or two) may allow some of the animals in this list.

In the majority of cases involving exotic animal attacks, the owner will be held strictly liable for any resulting injuries.

How Can the Owner of an Exotic Animal Be Held Liable for Injury?

The owner of an exotic animal will be held liable for injuries, regardless of whether or not they were negligent in maintaining the animal. This means that no matter how careful the owner of an exotic animal is in keeping it fenced in or locked up, they can still be held liable because strict liability law says that their duty is one that is considered to be absolute. 

The reason as to why exotic animal owners can be held strict liability is because wild animals are typically dangerous, unpredictable, and difficult to tame. Thus, the law does not allow for any mistakes when owning such an exotic animal since engaging in this sort of activity creates a foreseeable risk of harm (i.e., that the exotic animal will attack other persons).

In order to hold the owner of an exotic animal liable for one’s injuries, the injured party must first demonstrate that the exotic animal was under the owner’s control or that the owner introduced the animal to the environment. Next, the injured party will have to show that ownership of the exotic animal in question was impossible without incurring a high probability of risk. 

Additionally, they will also need to show that the harm inflicted was severe and that the surrounding community does not allow for such animals. However, the extent of liability in these actions will depend on whether the injury resulted from the kind of danger that makes a particular exotic animal dangerous. 

For instance, in states that permit ownership of elephants, an owner will only be held strictly liable if the elephant hurts another individual by charging them or impaling them with its tusks. If the animal simply wanders over to a neighbor’s garden and eats their vegetables, then they may not be strictly liable. This is because eating a garden is not considered the type of inherently dangerous activity one would associate with exotic animals.

What Is a Dangerous Animal?

A dangerous animal is not the same thing as an exotic animal. An exotic animal can be dangerous or it could simply be exotic because of its location, like if a person kept a penguin in New York City. Also, the term dangerous animal is not exclusively reserved for exotic or wild animals. For instance, it can be applied to house pets that have dangerous traits, such as specific dog breeds or a pet whose owner knows that it often bites and attacks people.

A court may consider several factors when determining whether an animal is dangerous or has a propensity for danger, including:

  • The general characteristics associated with a particular species. For example, if a person tried to keep a great white shark in their outdoor pool and a next-door neighbor’s child wandered over for a swim, it would be foreseeable if the shark bit the child. 
  • The court may also review the traits of the specific animal that caused the injury. For instance, golden retrievers are normally thought of as a playful and docile dog breed. However, this does not mean that every golden retriever will act accordingly. So, if a person’s golden retriever is particularly vicious, this will factor into a court’s decision. 
  • Additionally, a court will review whether the animal has a history of prior attacks and if the owner was aware of this fact. If an animal has a history of prior attacks, then it will likely be considered to be dangerous and thus may lead to liability.

Lastly, if the animal in question is a wild or exotic species (i.e., not a house pet), then a court may presume that its owner is aware of the animal’s dangerous characteristics. This is true even if the animal does not have a history of prior attacks. 

Are There Other Penalties for Owning an Exotic Animal?

Aside from having to pay monetary damages to injured parties, a person may face other penalties for owning an exotic animal as well. For example, a person may be subject to criminal charges or fines if they own an exotic animal that is considered to be illegal in their state or local county.

Owning certain exotic animals may also be a violation of federal laws. For instance, if an animal is on the endangered species list or some other federal law that makes it illegal to own the animal, then a person could face fines of up to thousands of dollars.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Attacks carried out by exotic animals can lead to serious consequences for both the owners of the exotic animal and the persons injured by them. Thus, whether you are the victim of an exotic animal attack or you are the owner of an exotic animal that is responsible for injuring another individual, you may want to consider hiring a local animal attack lawyer for further legal advice. 

An experienced personal injury lawyer can discuss your state’s exotic animal laws that are relevant to your case and can assist you with preparing and filing a lawsuit. Your lawyer will also be able to represent you in court if necessary.

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