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Attacked by Someone’s Wild Animal? Strict Liability it is…

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

A previous blog post discussed how California law follows a theory of liability known as “strict liability” for the owner of a dog that bites someone (see Dog Bites and Dog-Related Injuries). But does strict liability apply to other domesticated animals that bite someone (such as a horse, cat, rabbit, etc.)? The answer is No. Strict liability only applies to dog bites under California law and to injuries resulting from a wild animal. Again, when discussing wild animals, we are talking about situations where an individual owns or otherwise controls a wild animal and it attacks and injures someone. So what is a wild animal? While this list is by no means exhaustive, the court in Rosenbloom v. Hanour Corp.(1998) identified lions, tigers, bears, elephants, wolves, monkeys, and sharks as falling under the “wild animal” umbrella. Keep in mind while you read this blog that the wild animal need not bite the personal injury victim; the wild animal need only have injured the victim in some way. If it did, the owner will be liable, regardless how much care and attention was given to restraining the animal, and regardless whether the owner knew the animal had dangerous propensities. This is so because the law automatically presumes that a wild animal, which is known to have a vicious nature, is vicious. Because of this presumption, an inquiry into the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness is irrelevant after the wild animal inflicts injury on someone (Baugh v. Beatty(1949)). The common defense that the defendant in a personal injury claim involving a wild animal uses is the “assumption of the risk argument.” Essentially, the owner of the wild animal will claim that the personal injury victim assumed the risk of being injured and because the victim appreciated the risk of that injury he cannot blame the owner for something he could have avoided. For example, a private company holds bull-riding shows and owns or otherwise controls the bulls used in the show. A participant enters the arena and attempts to ride the bull, fully appreciating the risks involved. Unfortunately, the participant is severely injured when the bull rushes him and gores his leg. The participant would not have a claim against the owner because he knowingly assumed the risk of injury when he entered the ring to ride the bull.  The Rosenbloomcourt continued, “The owner of a naturally dangerous animal may be excused from the usual duty of care: ‘In cases involving “primary assumption of risk”—where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury—the doctrine . . . operates as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.’ ” To prove a claim against the owner of a wild animal, the accident victim must prove the following elements, found in California Civil Jury Instructions 461:

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant]’s [insert type of animal] harmed [him/her] and that [name of defendant] is responsible for that harm.

People who own wild animals are responsible for the harm that these animals cause to others, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their animals.

To establish [his/her] claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] owned a [insert type of animal];

2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

3. That [name of defendant]’s [insert type of animal] was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

Contact the Steven Dhillon Law Firm today if you have been injured in a dog attack, by a dog bite, or from an accident involving a wild animal.

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