What Happens When an Exotic Pet Causes an Injury?

Americans have long exhibited an extreme level of individuality. Politically, the Bill of Rights and other laws provide important personal liberties. But individualism can also be demonstrated by the way we live our lives and present ourselves to others.

From blue jeans to blue hair, people express themselves through their clothes, their cars, their homes, and their personal grooming styles. And, not surprisingly, some people express themselves through the pets that they choose to own. While some are happy to own a mixed breed from the pound, others choose expensive pure-bred dogs and cats.

Then there are those who prefer something more exotic. From reptiles to primates, you may be surprised to see the wide variety of animals that people have kept as pets. Some are relatively harmless, while others are dangerous and can cause death and serious personal injury.

In this article, we’ll discuss what happens when an exotic pet causes an injury.

What is an Exotic Pet?

When describing animals, the term “exotic” is often used somewhat broadly. In non-legal terms, it can mean that the animal is not native to the area, or that it is somewhat unusual. A snake or a macaw might be examples.

Legally, the term is more precise. Oregon law specifically defines certain “exotic animals” that may be owned under some circumstances with a permit. We’ll discuss both usages of the term “exotic.”

Prior to 2010, Oregon issued exotic animal permits for some animals, discussed below. That law has been changed. Such permits are no longer available, but permits obtained prior to the law change are grandfathered. The types of animals for which permits were previously allowed include

  • Felines not indigenous to Oregon (except domestic cats)
  • Nonhuman primates
  • Non-wolf canines not indigenous to Oregon (except domestic dogs)
  • Bears (except black bears)
  • Crocodilians

Of course, even though the law has changed, some people ignore it. According to an article in the Oregonian, people continue to illegally own exotic animals.

Liability for Harm Caused by Exotic Pets

Oregon law provides that a keeper of an exotic animal (under the legal definition) is strictly liable for personal injury, property damage, and other costs specified in the statute that are caused by an exotic animal’s escape from custody. Strict liability means that the keeper of the animal is responsible, even if he or she was not negligent. This rule of strict liability is in keeping with the legislature’s stated intention “to protect the public against health and safety risks that exotic animals pose to the community,” while also protecting the animals and avoiding undue financial and physical risk to members of the public.

There is an exception to the rule of strict liability if the escape results in whole or part from the unlawful actions of a third person. In those events, the keeper is liable only for his or her portion of negligence resulting in the escape.

What About Other Animals That Cause Injury?

Some animals may fit our non-legal definition of “exotic” pets, even though they are not classified as “exotic animals” under Oregon statutory law. People may choose to own unusual animals for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Avoiding allergies
  • Long animal life spans
  • Little space is needed
  • Exercise is not required

Owners of such animals still owe a duty of reasonable care to society. Thus, if you are injured as a result of the wrongful acts of the owner, you are entitled to recover damages.

Call with Questions

If you have suffered a personal injury due to an exotic pet, or even simply a dog bite, you probably have questions on how to proceed. Please call the experienced Oregon personal injury lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield and we will be happy to answer them. We will help you hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions so that everyone in society will be a little bit safer.


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