There is a very interesting tort case filed in Tucson over a Dutch tourist, a javelina, and a desert museum. Rene Zegerius experienced a real desert encounter when he was attacked by a javelina, a pig-sized member of the peccary family. While the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has javelinas, they insists that this must have been someone else’s javelina or a wild javelina. This is what torts professors dream of when they go to bed at night.
Rene Zegerius was in the hospital for eight days after the attack that severed veins, arteries, and ripped off skin on this right calf and left hand. He was attacked while walking outside on the museum grounds. He wants $400,000 for lost wages, pain and suffering, and has travel costs (including a first-class ticket to allow him to remain horizontal.
Robert Edison, the museum’s executive director, insists that all of his javelinas were checked for blood or other evidence and that they were all good javelinas.
This brings together a host of different tort issues. First, the common law imposes strict liability for injuries causes by wild animals. It becomes a question of dominion and control over the animals. In an analogous case of Woods-Leber v Hyatt Hotels of Puerto Rico (1997), Hyatt was found not to be strictly liable for an attack on its grounds by a rabid mongoose on a guest. It was not viewed as possessing the animal since wild animals could move freely on to the property. This makes the evidentiary question key on whose javelina attacked the fleeing Dutchman.
Second, many states protect zoos from strict liability. The museum calls itself a zoo and so state law could be key.
Third, there is a possible assumption of the risk defense. I did not see any warnings about wild animals on the website and the tourist was walking on a path (much like the Hyatt case).
There still remains the question of negligence of the museum in not maintaining safer grounds. The museum will likely argue that it is a remote, natural setting while Zegerius will argue that there was no warning that tourists face possible mortal combat with wild beasts.
It will come down to whose javelina is the culprit.
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