In our many FindLaw's Injured posts, we've covered dog bite injuries quite extensively. However, they're not the only animals with teeth.
What happens when you're bitten by a wild animal, or your wild animal pet bites somebody? Who is liable? Here are three things to know about wild animal bites:
1. Wild Animals Kept As Pets
Pet owners, keep wild animals as pets at your own risk.
Owners of wild pets, generally, are subject to strict liability because wild animals, like tigers and cheetahs, are potentially uncontrollable and inherently dangerous. Unlike negligence, strict liability means that owners is responsible for injuries caused by their pets regardless of whether the owner was at fault.
Even if you took steps to protect the public, such as building a fence and putting up a warning sign, you would still be liable for any harm caused by your wild pet. (I'm talking to you, Mike Tyson.)
2. Criminal Liability For You
For most people, getting bitten by a dog, cat, or other domestic pet, may mean receiving a compensation check in the mail from the owner. However, getting bitten by a wild animal could mean the victim spends time in jail and pays a fine, instead.
In Alaska, a man was mauled after he drunkenly tried to feed a bear. The man threw leftover barbecued meat at a bear. The bear gobbled up the first piece, but then decided the man was a tastier snack and took a bite out of him instead. Adding insult to injury, the poor bear victim faced possible criminal charges for violating a state statute that prohibited feeding wild animals.
Many states have similar laws against feeding or even leaving food out for wild animals. So, if you provoke an attack by trying to feed a wild animal, you could be facing a large fine in addition to your medical bills.
3. Doctrine of Animals Ferae Naturae
The doctrine of animals ferae naturae states that a property owner cannot be held liable for wild animal attacks on their property. In the case of Williams v. Gibbs, the Georgia Court of Appeals states that as long as a property owner does not own or keep a wild animal, "the law does not require the owner or possessor of land to anticipate the presence of, or guard an invitee against harm from animals ferae naturae."
However, this rule only applies when the presence of a wild animal on your property is not reasonably foreseeable. So, if a mountain lion, which has never been seen in the area before, comes down to your property and bites a party guest, you probably wouldn't be held liable. However, if you have a lot of snakes on your property, and you know that they are there, you do have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect guests against them. The doctrine of animals ferae naturae do not protect you in this circumstance.
So, if you are bitten by a wild animal, or a wild animal bites a guest while on your property, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney for guidance.