Whatever happened to impressing girls with a nice car or back stage tickets to a Guns and Roses concert? Anthony Zitnick allegedly wanted to impress a 16-year-old girl by unlawfully entering the private home of Alan Rigerman, who legally keeps two cougars, several snakes and an alligator. A 150-pound cougar named Chaos attacked her while Zitnick apparently froze and did little.
This one reads like a torts hypothetical. Owners are strictly liable for wild animals yet are generally not liable for trespassers. However, there are exceptions for attractive nuisances for child trespassers, though one of the elements is the inability to appreciate the danger. Sixteen is a bit old for an attractive nuisance claim when the two trespassers knowingly sought out the cougar.
Zitnick appears to have worked with Rigerman, including help with the animals.
Richard Miralles, a neighbor familiar with Rigerman’s large cats, heard the girl’s scream and jumped the fence — only to find the girl’s head in Chao’s mouth and Zitnick standing motionless in shock. Zitnick was later treated for shock. Miralles struggled with the animal and, after punching him in the head, the animal crawled into the corner in a ball.
Zitnick has been criminally charged — no surprise there. The question will be civil liability. The girl assumed the risk and was a trespasser. She could base some liability on the fact that Rigerman gave the key to someone like Zitnick and anticipated the trespass. If the animal is euthanized, Rigerman could clearly go after Zitnick — though for the moment Chaos remains at the home.
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