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Tiger Attacks and Assumption of Risk: Why the Law Sometimes Can't Help You When Simba Attacks

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Animals can be unpredictable, especially when it comes to undomesticated animals like tigers. This week, reports of another tiger attack emerged. In Florida, an animal trainer was hospitalized as a result of being scratched a dragged by a tiger while performing for a school field trip. The trainer attempted to free herself of the tiger's grip but was unable to do so until another trainer came into the pen and hit the tiger with a rod until the tiger released its grip. The wounded trainer emerged from the ordeal with cuts requiring stitches, but the outcome could have been much, much worse.

Being a personal injury attorney, when I read about a story like this, I automatically begin to think in terms of torts. It's a funny habit, but I suppose it isn't that unusual when you hear about a story that falls within the purview of your profession.

You may wonder, does the trainer have a claim against her employer for the tiger's conduct? Would the situation be different if, say, a bystander was attacked by a loose tiger? Texas, like other states, has a doctrine known as assumption of risk. Under this doctrine, a defendant in a personal injury case can argue to a jury that you knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risks associated with whatever you were doing when you were injured. Therefore, the argument goes, the wrongdoer owes you nothing.

In the context of a person employed to work with wild animals, this person would assume the risk of being harmed by those animals. It's just one of those hazards that comes along with the job, and the employee is (or should be!) well aware of this risk. So, in other words, if you work with tigers, you knowingly risk being bitten, scratched and dragged around.

Now, the situation changes for someone who is merely visiting, say, a zoo. In this context, the assumption of risk doctrine would not apply. If you think about it, this makes sense. When you go to the zoo, you don't knowingly and voluntarily assume the risks associated with animal attacks. The animals are in cages, after all.

Suffice it to say that working with wild animals is not for the faint of heart. If that's your career of choice and you do get hurt, I'm afraid the law won't be able to do all that much to help you. I'm not saying to not pursue your dream profession. All I'm saying is to do so with great caution. Simba's teeth are sharp, even if he's cute.

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