By John Woolfolk
Posted: 12/23/2008 02:17:38 PM PST
The parents of a San Jose teenager fatally mauled a year ago by a tiger that escaped its enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city and zoological society that own and operate the nearly 80-year-old institution.
Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, died at the zoo on Christmas Day 2007 when a 250-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana inexplicably escaped its enclosure and attacked him and two friends, who were severely injured.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, accuses the city and San Francisco Zoological Society of ignoring industry standards and warnings from their own staff that the tiger enclosure was inadequate to contain the animal.
"Siberian tigers are wild animals with a vicious disposition and possess dangerous propensities," the suit said. "Defendants ignored warnings by San Francisco Zoo employees that the Siberian tiger wall was insufficient."
The suit, filed by Carlos' parents, Marilza and Carlos Sousa Sr., seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death, negligence, reckless conduct and maintaining a public nuisance. Zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said the organization has not yet seen the suit but would not comment on pending litigation.
Matt Dorsey, press secretary to the city attorney, said he has not seen the lawsuit but that San Francisco is protected by a lease management agreement with the zoological society that requires the organization to assume all liability. But he
added that "we acknowledge what a difficult tragedy this has been for the Sousa family and our hearts go out for their loss."
The lawsuit is the latest litigation over the bizarre attack in which the tiger scaled a concrete wall from the base of a dry moat in its enclosure, then leapt over bushes and a waist-high railing to attack Carlos, who was killed almost immediately. The tiger then pursued and attacked Carlos' two friends in a chilling 20-minute rampage that ended when police killed the cat in a hail of gunfire.
Carlos' friends, Kulbir Dhaliwal, 24, and Paul Dhaliwal, 20, also of San Jose, filed a lawsuit in federal court last month, accusing city and zoo officials of negligence as well as defamation for suggesting the young men provoked the tiger.
The city earlier this year rejected claims for damages filed by the Sousas and Dhaliwals.
Since the attack, the Dhaliwals have faced unrelated legal troubles. The older brother was convicted of misdemeanor public drunkenness and resisting arrest, while the younger Dhaliwal was convicted of shoplifting and is serving a state prison sentence for a parole violation triggered by reckless driving.
The outer concrete wall of the tiger's enclosure in the zoo's big cat grotto was as low as 12.5 feet high, the suit said. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an industry accreditation organization, recommends a minimum height of 16.4 feet, it said. The zoo has since raised the wall and added other improvements to make the enclosure more secure.
The suit also notes that the same tiger had attacked one of its keepers about a year before the deadly escape, mauling her arm.
"Defendants knew the Siberian tiger known as Tatiana was extremely dangerous and aggressive toward humans," the suit said.
Contact John Woolfolk at email@example.com or (408) 975-9346.
Click to view image: 'Tiger'
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