California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

461. Strict Liability for Injury Caused by Wild Animal—Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant]’s [insert type of animal] harmed [him/her] and that [name of defendant] is responsible for that harm.

People who own wild animals are responsible for the harm that these animals cause to others, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their animals.

To establish [his/her] claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] owned a [insert type of animal];

2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

3. That [name of defendant]’s [insert type of animal] was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

New September 2003

Sources and Authority

  • Lions, tigers, bears, elephants, wolves, monkeys, and sharks have been characterized as wild animals. (Rosenbloom v. Hanour Corp. (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 1477, 1479, fn. 1 [78 Cal.Rptr.2d 686].)
  • An owner of a wild animal is strictly liable to persons who are injured by the animal: “In such instances the owner is an insurer against the acts of the animal, to one who is injured without fault, and the question of the owner’s negligence is not in the case.” (Opelt v. Al G. Barnes Co. (1919) 41 Cal.App. 776, 779 [183 P. 241].)
  • “[I]f the animal which inflicted the injury is vicious and dangerous, known to the defendant to be such, an allegation of negligence on the part of defendant is unnecessary and the averment, if made, may be treated as surplusage.” (Baugh v. Beatty (1949) 91 Cal.App.2d 786, 791 [205 P.2d 671].)
  • A wild animal, of a type to be known to have a vicious nature, is presumed to be vicious. (Baugh, supra, 91 Cal.App.2d at p. 791.) Accordingly, an instruction on the owner’s knowledge of its ferocity is unnecessary. (Id. at pp. 791–792.)
  • “It is commonly said that scienter, or knowledge of such propensities, must be proved in the case of domestic animals, but is presumed in the case of wild animals.” (6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 1403.)
  • “The owner of a naturally dangerous animal may be excused from the usual duty of care: ‘In cases involving “primary assumption of risk”—where, by virtue of the nature of the activity and the parties’ relationship to the activity, the defendant owes no legal duty to protect the plaintiff from the particular risk of harm that caused the injury—the doctrine . . . operates as a complete bar to the plaintiff’s recovery.’ ” (Rosenbloom, supra, 66 Cal.App.4th at p. 1479, internal citation omitted.)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, § 1403

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) §§ 3.3–3.6

1 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 6, Strict Liability for Injuries Caused by Animals, §§ 6.01–6.10 (Matthew Bender)

3 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 23, Animals: Civil Liability (Matthew Bender)

1 California Civil Practice: Torts (Thomson West) §§ 2:20–2:21