Getting a Recovery for Injuries from an Animal Attack–the Strange Case of the Rampaging Chimp

Although a chimpanzee is our closest relative in the animal kingdom, a chimpanzee is a wild animal.  A person who foolishly keeps it as a pet will be liable to any person injured by the animal.

If you have been injured by a wild animal or exotic pet, please call me at 800-581-1434.

Yesterday, in Stamford, Connecticut, a 14 year old chimpanzee named Travis went on a rampage and almost killed a visiting neighbor.   The 200 pound chimpanzee was kept as a pet.  The neighbor, who knew the family and the chimp, did not provoke the horrific mauling.  She was called to the scene to help the homeowner get the chimp back into the house.  This innocent victim is in critical condition.   The animal’s owner called 911 frantically and demanded that the police come with guns to shoot to stop the rampaging simian.    The chimp turned on the police, and a policeman who was cornered shot and killed the chimpanzee.  See the story here

Escaped chimpanzee Travis is coaxed into a waiting  sport utility vehicle in downtown Stamford, Conn. in 2003.    Travis, the chimp, had no prior history of violence.  In fact, he did some TV work.  The only significant, prior incident was where Travis escaped from his owner’s car, and Travis playfully tied-up traffic as the police tried to capture him.  No one was injured.

A chimpanzee is a wild animal.  Although it might be called an “exotic” pet, it still is a wild animal.  It is not a domesticated animal, such as a dog or cat, which has been bred to live with people.

The injured person would be able to recover against the chimp’s owner on a strict liability basis.  The mere fact that the animal attacked the woman is enough to impose liability against the owner.  The home ownership of a wild, dangerous animal would be deemed such a hazardous activity that the courts would impose absolute liability against the owner.

In comparison, in order to recover for a dog bite, the injured person has the burden to prove that the animal has vicious propensities, such as prior attacks.  This is unnecessary in the attack of a wild animal.

A mixed-breed, such as a mixed wolf and dog, can be deemed an wild animal.

The animal owner’s homeowners or renter’s insurance should afford coverage to the owner.  However, if the owner lacks insurance, the injured person may have either no means or recovery or a very limited recovery. 


For example, in 2003 a Harlem man kept a 350-500 pound tiger in his housing project apartment.  Fortunately, the tiger did not escape, and the police and animal control people were able to remove the tiger.  If the tiger had escaped and mauled or killed a person it is doubtful that the tiger owner would have had insurance.  See story here.  

If you decide to have an “exotic pet”, be aware that you can be fully responsible if that animal attacks someone even if you think that your pet is no longer wild.

If you have been injured by an animal, please feel free to call me at 800-581-1434.

Mark E. Seitelman, 2/17/09,


2 Responses to Getting a Recovery for Injuries from an Animal Attack–the Strange Case of the Rampaging Chimp

  1. Joe says:

    a CNN commentator made a good point about the impossibility of ever truly domesticating a wild animal, no matter how much a person might want it to to be domesticated

  2. Joe, this is a good point.

    One of my employees told me that back in Russia a retired circus owner and his wife kept a lion at home. They insisted that the the lion was safe and harmless. The lion killed both of them.

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