There is an interesting question of liability raised in a frightening encounter of a wedge-tailed eagle and a little boy at a wildlife show in central Australia. The eagle tried to fly away with a terrified boy at a popular wildlife show in central Australia at the Alice Springs Desert Park. Fortunately the boy only suffered superficial injuries. The question in torts is one of animal liability, though the laws in Australia are different.
Christine O’Connell from Horsham in Victoria state was visiting the park with her husband on 6 July when the attack occurred.
One theory is that the boy had attracted the eagle by “running his zipper up and down” as the eagle approached.
The park issued a statement that “On Wednesday, 6 July, an incident occurred at the Alice Springs Desert Park where an eagle made contact with an audience member. A thorough investigation regarding the circumstances behind this incident is under way and the eagle will be removed from the show while this investigation is ongoing.”
We recently discussed animal liability with regard to the Disney alligator tragedy. Notably, this week it was revealed that Disney had specifically warned its firefighters to stop feeding the alligators, a surprising practice that runs against every common warning on dealing with wild animals. It will further the argument that the alligators were under Disney’s control or supervision.
Under the common law, there is strict liability for injuries caused by wild animals in your possession. However, that would raise the question of whether these alligators are in the legal possession or control of Disney since they occupy the lake. This was the issue in 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. The same issue came up recently in the United States in the case of the woman who had her face ripped off by a neighbor’s pet chimpanzee and a case in Arizona involving a javelina.
The eagle in this case was part of the show and clearly under the control of the park. If the eagle is deemed a wild animal, strict liability applies. Even if found to be a domesticated animal, it can be subject to strict liability if found to have a vicious history or disposition. In any case, a strong argument might be made on the basis for negligence if a simple zipper can trigger an eagle attack. There is also the question of where small children should be seated. While they are often moved up front, that could be the highest risk area for children.
This is not the first time that eagles have taken an interest in small children in Australia: