Boy who saw tapir attack sister at Dublin Zoo awarded €25,000

Ruari Owens not physically hurt but suffered psychological injury in 2013 incident, court told

Patricia Frost (left) and her solicitor Cathy McDarby pictured leaving the Four Courts on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Patricia Frost (left) and her solicitor Cathy McDarby pictured leaving the Four Courts on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins Courts.

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A boy who witnessed an attack on his toddler sister by a Brazilian tapir at Dublin Zoo, and saw his parents injured while attempting to save the girl, has been awarded €25,000 in the Circuit Civil Court.

Ruari Owens, who was 10 at the time of the incident, saw the female tapir lift his then two-year-old sister, Katie, in its mouth and violently shake her, causing her serious injury on August 8th, 2013.

Daragh Owens and Patricia Frost, Katie’s parents, fought off the animal, which had earlier given birth to a calf, and were also injured in the attack.

Francis McGagh, counsel for the family, told Judge Francis Comerford that the children had been in the tapir cage and Ruari had seen the sudden and violent attack up close.

Mr McGagh, who appeared with Cathy McDarby of McDarby Solicitors in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, told the court that Ruari’s brother Cathal, who was six at the time, also witnessed the attack. Both boys, while not physically injured, had suffered psychological injury, he said.

A Brazilian tapir with a calf. File Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.
A Brazilian tapir with a calf. File Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

Counsel said the Zoological Society of Ireland had also offered Cathal, now aged 11, settlement damages of €25,000 but Judge Comerford said that, based on medical reports, Cathal seemed to have been more seriously affected.

He adjourned consideration of Cathal’s settlement figure until the court receives an up-to-date report.

Mr McGagh told Judge Comerford that claims on behalf of Katie, Ms Frost and Mr Owens were currently before the High Court.

Enclosure

The court heard a family friend had organised for the family to accompany a zoo keeper into the tapir enclosure. When the tapir attacked Katie, Ms Frost dived at the animal and dislodging her daughter and covered her with her body.

Mr McGagh said Ms Frost suffered significant bite injuries and had to undergo surgery on her arm. Both parents, apart from physical injuries, also suffered traumatic psychological injuries.

He told Judge Comerford that the family had also suffered trauma as a result of extensive media coverage of the incident, including a prosecution that had been taken against the Zoological Society in the District Court.

“There is no doubt that the media coverage in Ireland and in Britain and in other places, including graphic pictures of their injuries, greatly exacerbated the family’s psychological injuries and recovery,” Mr McGagh said during an application to have the boys’ cases to be heard in camera.

Judge Comerford, who said the unfortunate incident was already in the public domain, decided not to apply any reporting restrictions. He said the attack must have been terrifying for the family.

Mr McGagh appealed to the media to treat the reporting of the cases with sensitivity and asked that the family be left to get on with their lives in peace at their home in Mochara, Shrule, Co Mayo.

In December 2014, the Zoological Society was prosecuted on the grounds of negligence in the District Court where the judge applied the Probation Act, thus avoiding a criminal conviction, and ordered the zoo to make donations of €2,500 to both the Jack and Jill Foundation and to the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice.

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