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City denies liability in Christmas Day tiger attack

  • Story Highlights
  • Case stems from the death of a teen who was attacked by an escaped tiger
  • Claim filed by the parents of the teen went to the San Francisco Zoological Society
  • City's denial opens the door for the teen's family to file a lawsuit within six months
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Officials said Monday the city is not liable for the death of a San Jose teenager who was attacked by an escaped tiger on Christmas Day at the San Francisco Zoo.

The city instead referred a claim filed by the parents of 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. to the San Francisco Zoological Society, which manages the zoo, and to the society's insurance company, according to a letter issued by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Herrera responded similarly in May to claims filed by brothers Kulbir and Paul Dhaliwal, two friends of Sousa who also were mauled by the tiger.

The city's denial now opens the door for the Sousa family to file a lawsuit within six months, according to state law.

The family's lawyer, Michael Cardoza, said they plan to sue the city and the zoo operators, but he would not say how much money they would seek.

"The city owns the animals and owns the property. They don't get to abrogate their responsibility by pointing to the zoo. They can fight about who is responsible," Cardoza said.

He said the Sousas were very emotional after reading reports last week that the Siberian tiger, named Tatiana, had lost 50 pounds since her arrival from a zoo in Denver two years ago. Zoo officials denied the tiger, who was fatally shot after the maulings, was underfed.

"I think because of the feeding they do publicly, they want their animals to be voraciously hungry so it makes a better show," Cardoza said.

Herrera's spokesman Matt Dorsey said Monday's letter was just a procedural step that occurs in most cases involving civil litigation against government entities.

"This is not a qualitative judgment on the seriousness of this tragedy, and it is in no way seeking to minimize the loss suffered by the Sousa family," Dorsey said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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