$2,100,000: Young Child Mauled By Mountain Lion in Orange County Wilderness Park
June 4, 2010
CASE DESCRIPTION: 5 year old girl was mauled by mountain lion in Orange County Wilderness Park and sustained severe and permanent injuries. Child and Mother brought suit against County of Orange for failure to warn or remove danger from Public Park. Defendant disputed their liability on the basis that they did not know of the threat and are not responsible for the acts of a wild animal on unimproved public property.
RESULT: $2,093,638 total verdict
Laura S. during a family outing in Orange County Wilderness Park was mauled by a mountain lion. Plaintiff argued at trial that the Defendant, County of Orange, failed to warn the public of the known risk to human safety posed by mountain lions. The County should have done so since it knew mountain lions regularly frequented the improved public park. Plaintiff pointed to the following evidence of such knowledge: multiple lion sightings (including two near attacks), discussion by the County regarding other “unusual” lion behavior, and prior County discussions regarding their need to take public safety protective measures.
Yet no warnings were given, even after a park official had been instructed to do so by a California Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist. In fact, the park continued to issue information stating that the “most dangerous form of wildlife” in the park was poison oak and that the mountain lion was “shy, secretive, with a healthy aversion to human beings.” Plaintiffs relied on these affirmative representations of safety in choosing to bring their young child to this public park, to their detriment.
At trial Plaintiff’s experts testified that mountain lions are known to attack human beings, especially children (and common sense furthermore dictates that they are dangerous animals). The park should have warned the public of the danger of lions present in the park, at least. Other protective measures would have been to close portions of the park where lions are known to commonly frequent, close portions of the trails to minors, or close the park entirely until the danger was alleviated. With numerous lion sightings and “unusual” lion behavior, including two “near attacks,” the park should have taken measures to protect the public. Furthermore, the information being given to the public clearly misrepresented the park as a safe place to bring your children, which it was not.
The Defendant, County of Orange contended that they cannot be held liable for the acts of a wild animal on unimproved public property. They further argued that the park officials had no way of knowing that mountains lions were dangerous to human beings, therefore the County’s failure to warn was not negligent. There had never been an attack on humans by a mountain lion in Southern California and the last attack in California was in 1907.
At trial Defense experts testified the County was immune from liability for injury resulting from a natural condition of unimproved public property. The County further argued park officials could not have been aware of the danger posed by mountain lions in the park because there had been no documented mountain lion attacks on human beings ever in Southern California (despite that lion attacks in other States and Canada are well documented, and despite that there have been numerous “near attacks” even in Southern California). Thus, the county argued it had no duty to warn.
TYPE OF CASE: Mountain lion attack on child in public park; personal injury; unnaturally dangerous condition of improved public property; negligent misrepresentation; negligent infliction of emotional distress.
INJURIES: Plaintiff suffered severe injuries including loss of sight in one eye; paralysis of both right arm and leg (partial); severe facial scarring; multiple lacerations of face and head (scalp ripped off head); crushed skull – including approximately 1 ½ inch diameter hole in skull exposing brain tissue. Plaintiff also suffered from a rare blood disease known as a plastic anemia. Plaintiff has undergone numerous surgeries and hospitalizations and will need more in the future.
DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: On 3/23/86 1:00 p.m in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, California.
PLAINTIFF’S AGE: Laura S. – 5 at time of incident
Wylie A. Aitken & Richard A. Cohn
AITKEN * AITKEN * COHN
For Plaintiffs – Laura S., by and through her Guardian Ad Litem, Susan S.
Barry L. Allen & John K. Butler
PORTIGAL, HAMMERTON & ALLEN
For Defendant – The County of Orange