Recently a 7-year old Wichita, Kansas boy was on a field trip to the Sedgwick County Zoo.  The zoo was hosting numerous schools on Friday, but with the rest of his first grade class, the boy broke away from the group and climbed over a four-to-five foot railing to the leopard cages.  The leopard is a four-year-old Amur leopard (one of only 30 to 35 known to remain), but the boy continued to approach, crossing an eight-foot gap.  He stood next to the metal mesh fence of the animal’s enclosure.  The problem with the fence?  It had large gaps 4inch by 8inch gaps between the bars.  As he approached the leopard, it suddenly grabbed him with its paw and tried to bite the boy.

A man and woman jumped in to try to rescue the boy.  The man kicked the leopard in the head, prompting it to release the boy.  The boy suffered lacerations to his head and neck, he is currently in fair condition and his injuries are not considered life threatening.

Who Is Likely To Be Sued Over The Animal Attack?

Whenever a dangerous animal attacks, there’s usually someone who is going to be the subject of a lawsuit.  If a person owns a dangerous animal, like a wolf, they are strictly liable for any danger or damages caused by their “pet.”  However, an animal in a zoo is differently situated than one who owns a wolf at their home.  That being said, there seems to be three potential defendants in this lawsuit.  First, the child was on a school trip.  The school takes responsibility for the safety of the child and the child appears not to have been monitored if he was able to climb the fence and get close to the leopard.  However, the school might point to the permission slip that the parents, presumably, signed.  These permission slips will usually allow a school to escape liability for an injury to the child.

Next, the parents may sue the zoo since a first grader was able to get near a leopard, there seems to be a defective design or surveillance of the animal.  Most entertainment places, like zoos, golf course and movie theaters are under a duty to provide a safe environment for those entering the location.  The reason for this is two-fold; one the person is paying to enter the property with the expectation that they are entering a safe atmosphere.  Secondly, the property owners are in a better position to survey the land and take care of any potential pitfalls.

Finally, the person specifically responsible for monitoring the child could be sued for failure to observe the child.  Usually this is a volunteer parent who is responsible for keeping an eye on a few children.  Here, the fact a child was able to get over a fence, cross a gap and get near a mesh fence, shows that there was, at the least, lax supervision.

What do you think?  Who should be responsible: the school, the zoo, or the person in charge of supervising?  Do you think the animal or the animal trainers are at fault?