On April 19, 1996, a 23-year-old man and 20-year-old woman were attending the African Lion Safari (ALS) zoo. The ALS Zoo is a drive-through safari zoo. That day the couple had gone to the carnivore section of the zoo. Prior to entering they had closed all their windows. All of a sudden one of the tigers attacked their car. Somehow during the attack, the passenger side window got opened and the tiger got in. In the chaos, the driver-side window also somehow got lowered and two other tigers gained access to the car. The man and woman were mauled by the tigers and suffered serious injuries. Prior to entering the carnivore area their windows were closed but since they had power automated windows, they believe somehow during the attack they hit the window button lowering the window and allowing the tigers access into the vehicle.
The woman suffered severe soft tissue injuries to her scalp that required plastic surgery. She continues to have soft tissue tightness and pain in her scalp ear and neck areas. Her head injuries also resulted in recurrent tension headaches. She also suffered a serious wound to her hip and thigh and required multiple surgeries to remove scar tissue and suffered from chronic pain in the hip region. Her psychological injuries include PTSD depression and anxiety.
The man suffered serious injuries to his right hand and arm. He no longer has the ability to use his right hand for fine motor skill activities and his forearm is seriously disfigured. His right arm and hand caused him continual pain. As a result of the attack, he suffers from PTSD.
Both victims filed a lawsuit against African Lion Safari & Game Farm Ltd. In the 2005 lawsuit, the judge found the zoo liable for their injuries as there is strict liability for animal owners. This means that regardless of the situation animal owners are responsible for the actions of their animals. Furthermore, the judge found that the zoo’s negligent actions led to the attack. They had breached their duty of care to the zoogoers in three separate ways. First, an employee of the zoo had taken one of the tiger cubs into her vehicle which likely upset the tigers. The employee car was similar in color to the car that was attacked. It was likely that the tigers attacked the car believing the cub was inside it. Secondly, the employee was negligent because she failed to pay attention to the carnivores and keep them away from visitors’ vehicles. Finally, the judge found that the zoo had a faulty design and poor employee training for a zoo that had dangerous animals and was therefore negligent. The zoo was found liable for the injuries both the man and woman sustained in the attack. Their negligence had caused injuries to the couple
Failed defense of voluntary assumption of risk
The zoo claimed that zoo-goers enter their premise with a voluntary assumption of risk so they should not be held liable for the injuries. The zoo proved that they had signs at the entrance to the zoo that states that all visitors enter the park at their own risk and the zoo is not responsible for damage to vehicles or persons. Similarly, the couple was handed a brochure with a similar warning. However, the judge ruled that the defense of voluntary assumption of risk did not apply to this situation for two reasons. First, no employee had brought their attention to the sign or the notice in the brochure or had warned them about the dangers of entering the zoo. Secondly, the assumption of risk did not apply to the situation. The couple knew the risk of having an open window in a tiger enclosure. However, they could not have been expected to assume the risk of a tiger attacking their car causing their windows to open. Therefore, the defense of voluntary assumption of risk was invalid and the zoo was held liable for their injuries.
The judge awarded the man $225,000 in general damages, $247,053 for past loss of income, $1,191,597 for future loss of income, and $37,382 for special damages. In total, he received $1,701,032 in compensation for his injuries.
The judge awarded the woman $210,000 in general damages, $298,528 for past loss of income, $250,000 for future loss of income, and $54,641 for special damages. In total, she received $813,169 in compensation for her injuries.