April 3, 2017

Ocala, Florida is about 100 miles away from Tampa Bay, and it serves as the setting for the latest legal drama involving a wild animal.  On March 13, a venomous 2-foot-long monocle cobra escaped from an Ocala home and is still on the loose. The cobra belongs to Floridian Brian Purdy, who has a venomous reptile license and was allowed to possess the reptile, which is illegal to own as a household pet. The snake had escaped an enclosure when his apprentice was shadowing the snake.

Police say the apprentice opened the cover of the cage and the snake jumped at him and then slid away. When the owner and the apprentice couldn’t find the snake in the concealed room, they called Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The yellow cobra is dangerous, leading authorities to warn neighbors. “Residents in the area are urged to use caution until this snake has been captured,” the FWC said in a news release. “Although reclusive by nature, cobras are highly venomous and will strike out if they feel threatened.” If someone were to be bitten by the escaped cobra, they would need to get to the hospital as soon as possible as they should be treated with the appropriate anti-venom medication.

The snake’s owner has been licensed to have the cobra since May 2016. Under Florida law, there are a number of wild animals that anyone can own as long as he or she acquires the proper permit for said animal. The FWC requires the rooms where venomous reptiles are kept to be escape-proof. Investigators will be looking into whether Purdy violated any regulations.

Strictly speaking, Florida courts have extended strict liability to the owner, keeper, or possessor of wild animals if the animal injures others. This means that Purdy cannot escape liability for an injury even if he was being reasonably careful.

The owner of a wild animal can be strictly liable to an individual injured as a result of the animal escaping from its cage, even if the animal escaped without any fault on the owner’s part. This is different from negligence, which typically requires the injured party to demonstrate some degree of fault, e.g., that the owner knew or should have known that the animal could escape. Florida law is an extension of the common law that held owners of dangerous animals should bear the cost of any injury they cause.

Under Florida law the owner of a dangerous animal is responsible for ensuring that the animal does not escape and that it does not cause harm to another person. If someone knowingly keeps a wild animal on their property, then they are likely going to be strictly liable for the harm that it causes.

Please contact a lawyer from Corless Barfield Trial Group. We are experienced in handling personal injury claims, and can serve as an important resource for information if you or someone you know has been injured in an animal attack.