Would and should the child that was attacked by Harambe the Gorilla win in a lawsuit against the zoo?Read Now
Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether or not the parents of the boy who crawled into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinatti zoo were bad parents, and whether the zoo made the right decision when they killed Harambe, the gorilla that was dragging the child in the water.
Personally, I do not have enough information to determine whether the parents were negligent. If the child was completely by himself at the zoo, they were surely negligent. If they lost sight of their kid for over 15 minutes, they were probably negligent. But what if they had only looked away for 5 seconds and when they looked back their kid was already hidden in the bushes on his way down the 15 foot drop to the gorilla exhibit? My nephew is only 19 months old and he could definitely run the distance from the rail to the 15 foot drop into the gorilla exhibit within 5-10 seconds. The boy that was involved in the incident was 4 years old.
However, I am quite certain that the Cincinnati zoo was in fact negligent and partially, if not totally, responsible for this incident.
How can I make such a bold claim without having personally inspected the site?
I make this claim this based on my experience with premises liability cases. Although I am only licensed to practice law in California, most states follow similar principal of negligence. In a nutshell, premises liability is a legal concept that typically comes into play in personal injury cases where the injury is caused by some kind of dangerous or defective condition on another's property.
In order to win a premises liability case, the injured person must prove that the property owner was negligent in regards to ownership and/or maintenance of the property. Generally, one is negligent when they fail to use reasonable care. Reasonable care is generally subjective and requires an analysis of the surrounding facts and circumstances.
It is a common misconception that one may sue a property owner if they get hurt on their property and win automatically, no matter what. This is not the case. Furthermore, simply because the property might have been in an unsafe condition does not automatically mean that the property owner was negligent. One has to show that the property owner knew or should reasonably have known that the premises were in an unsafe condition, and still failed to take proper steps to remedy the situation.
Here, it is a fact that a 4 year old child was able to, on his own, traverse a barrier that separates 1.2 million visitors every year from a 15 foot drop that leads into a family of large, sometimes angry (although sometimes very kind), potentially deadly gorillas.
The zoo knows how dangerous these gorillas can be, hence the reason why their procedures dictated that their employees shoot the gorillas to death in the case that they come into contact with a human.
The zoo also knows that it is very likely that out of 1.2 million visitors per year, it is very likely that one day, some brave kid will try to go play with King Louie from the Jungle Book.
There is absolutely NO reason why this barrier was not bigger and stronger then it was. It wouldn't be cost prohibitive for a zoo with the Cincinnati Zoo's budget, and they could still attract plenty of visitors and allow them to experience the Gorilla exhibit in a fun, but safe, way.
I do not know the exact nuances of Ohio law, but if this were to happen in California, I would definitely take on this case if the child's parents came to my office. The child and his parents should not have had to go through the pain and suffering that they went through. The child suffered both physical injuries and emotional distress, and the parents that had to watch their half-conscious child get dragged around by a gorilla surely suffered emotional distress.
And for those that believe that the parents were partially at fault, most states allow for comparative negligence. Thus, if the jury were to find that the parents and the zoo share the blame equally at 50% each, the zoo would still be liable for 50% of the damages. To use a round number, if the jury finds that the damages suffered by the child were worth $1 Million, the zoo would still have to pay $500,000.
Disclaimer - This is not legal advice. This is merely an opinion based on general legal principles.