The family of a toddler attacked by a gorilla at the Franklin Park Zoo was awarded $175,000 for pain and suffering today by a civil jury who ruled that while the ape's handlers did not act negligently, they were still liable for the girl's injuries.
After deliberating for six hours, the Suffolk Superior Court jury concluded that the zoo and its officials were not negligent when Little Joe climbed out of his enclosure on Sept. 28, 2003, and attacked Nia S. Scott, who was 2 years and 9 months old. However, as the "keepers" of a wild animal, the jury ruled that Little Joe's handlers should still compensate Scott.
Scott escaped that day with cuts and bruises, but Little Joe went on to terrorize the neighborhood near the zoo for two hours before police subdued him with tranquilizer darts. Lawyers for the plaintiffs alleged during the six-day trial that the attack inflicted long-term psychological damage that has caused Scott, now 6, nightmares, made her less outgoing, and damaged her relationship with her mother.
Terrasita Duarte-Scott filed the lawsuit on behalf of her daughter against the zoo's owner, Zoo New England, and five of its executives, including its president and chief executive officer, John Linehan, and head veterinarian, Dr. Hayley Murphy. After the verdict, Scott seemed disappointed with the verdict.
"They did what they thought was fair, but I'm speechless. Just speechless," Duarte-Scott said. "What I wanted to do was prove that they were negligent."
In addition to the money awarded to her daughter, Duarte-Scott had also sought her own financial damages, a claim that the jury rejected.
After the verdict, Linehan said that the zoo respected the jury's decision. He said the zoo's $2.3 million renovation to the Tropical Forest exhibit will ensure that Little Joe will never escape again. The gorillas are now kept in a completely enclosed glass cage that includes a stainless steel net capping the 1 1/2-inch thick glass walls.
Scott went to the zoo that day with a family friend, Courtney Roberson, who testified during the trial that she too was attacked by Little Joe. Roberson, who settled a lawsuit out of court, told the jury that she saw the gorilla slap at Scott five to eight times.