Brothers claim zoo, city negligent in tiger attack

Tiger Attack
In this video image taken from KGO television, paramedics arrive at San Francisco General Hospital with one of the victims of a tiger attack Tuesday Dec. 25, 2007, in San Francisco. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two brothers who were attacked by an escaped tiger at the San Francisco Zoo have filed claims against the city alleging negligence and defamation.

Kulbir and Amritpal “Paul” Dhaliwal are seeking monetary compensation for “serious physical and emotional injuries.” The claims filed this week are a prerequisite for filing a civil lawsuit.

The pair were injured on Christmas Day after a 250-pound Siberian tiger scaled the walls of its enclosure, attacked them and killed their friend, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. The animal eventually was shot dead by police.

The walls of the outdoor enclosure later were found to be lower than recommended by an accrediting agency for the nation’s zoos.

The documents allege the city failed in its duty to provide a safe zoo environment, defamed the brothers by spreading falsehoods about their possible role in provoking the attack and improperly impounded Kulbir Dhaliwal’s car.

“The Dhaliwal brothers’ attorneys have made clear from the beginning that they intended to sue the city,” said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

The claims do not specify a dollar amount for the damages.

The brothers’ attorney, Mark Geragos, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Kulbir Dhaliwal suffered deep cuts and bite wounds on his body, underwent surgery to repair the damage to his knees and has scars from his injuries, the claims said. They also allege that he was defamed by a public relations consultant that the San Francisco Zoological Society hired after the attack and made the target of “intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.”

San Francisco police spent more than a month investigating the maulings while weighing whether to seek criminal charges against the Dhaliwals. The lead investigator said in January the tiger “may have been taunted/agitated by its eventual victims,” but the department suspended its investigation without recommending charges.

The city has 45 days to respond to the claims with either a formal denial or a settlement offer, Dorsey said. If a formal denial is issued, the brothers would have six months to file a lawsuit, he said.

Dorsey said it was too soon to say how the city would respond. Settlements usually are offered in simple cases such as minor accidents involving government vehicles and “more complex issues typically proceed to litigation,” he said.