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Dolphin Bites Girl at Sea World

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

A young girl on a visit to Sea World got a shocking reminder that dolphins are wild animals when she received some painful bites from one of the intelligent sea creatures, CNN reports.

Jillan Thomas, an 8-year-old girl on vacation with her family in Orlando, was participating in feeding the dolphins a few weeks ago. She and other park visitors were warned not to lift the trays that held the dolphins' food.

The reason for that rule became clear just seconds after Jillian held up one of the paper trays. A dolphin leaped out of the water to grab the tray -- and bit Jillian's hand too.

The dolphin held on to the girl's hand for a few seconds, according to CNN. Then it yanked the paper tray from her grasp and left the girl with three puncture marks on her hand.

Her parents filmed the entire incident and put the video on the Internet. They were also dissatisfied with Sea World's response to the incident. But it's unclear whether they can legally fault the park for what happpened.

No one expected the dolphin to jump up and bite Jillian, so it's unlikely Sea World would be liable for intentional harm. If the Thomas family decides to file suit it will likely be for negligence.

A potential suit for negligence would have to show that Sea World had a duty to the victim, that it failed to fulfill that duty, and that the failure caused the harm to the victim.

Amusement parks and other venues open to ticket-purchasers generally do have a duty to guests. But that may not help a potential claim by the Thomases.

Venues like Sea World have a duty to inspect the premises regularly and protect customers from known hazards and those that would be obvious based on inspection. That means things like slippery floors and broken handrails.

In this case, Sea World did know about the hazard of picking up the dolphins' food trays. They warned people to keep the trays on the ground.

But the Thomases allege they weren't told why the trays had to stay down.

It's possible that if they'd known the risk of a dolphin bite, they would have been more likely to obey the rules. But it's not clear that a court would rule in their favor because they didn't know why the instructions were given. It may be enough that Sea World made an effort to prevent hazards like what happened to Jillian.

So far, it's not clear if the family will file a lawsuit, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As for the park, Sea World managers claim that the incident happened because a guest failed to follow instructions, and insist they are committed to guest safety.

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