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Exotic animal bites: Who is responsible in Ohio?

Ohio used to have some of the weakest laws in the nation regarding the ownership of exotic animals.

Then one of the state's residents let loose dozens of exotic animals, including lions and bears, before killing himself -- ultimately forcing police and animal control officers to put down many of the beasts for the public's safety. In the wake of the well-known incident, lawmakers enacted tough new restrictions on exotic pets -- and put more liability for injuries on their owners.

The private ownership of exotic animals is considered a public safety concern simply because owners often fail to realize that their unusual family pet is not -- and probably cannot be -- properly domesticated.

Many owners of exotic pets start out trying to rescue the unwanted animals from broken-down zoos or traveling circuses. Some people simply fall in love with an exotic animal while it is still small and relatively harmless, so they fail to realize that the cuddly tiger cub they adopted has grown into a lethal hunting machine. Other people just like the novelty of owning an exotic pet -- whether they can properly care for the animal or not.

Under the current legislation in Ohio, exotic pet owners are held strictly liable for any injuries caused by their animals. If they are able to obtain a permit for a dangerous animal in the first place, allowing that animal to wander off their own property is considered a first-degree misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses are considered a felony, as is releasing one into the wild.

Those that are able to obtain one of the various forms of permits that will allow them to legally keep an exotic animal have to comply with specific requirements regarding cages, fences and warning signs. They are also required to carry either liability insurance or a form of bond that will cover the costs if the animal bites, scratches, mauls or otherwise injures someone or someone's property. The required insurance or bond coverage ranges from $200,000 to $1 million.

If you've been bitten, scratched, mauled or disfigured by someone's exotic pet, an attorney can help protect your right to compensation for your injuries.

Source: Ohio Department of Agriculture, "Senate Bill 310: Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act," accessed May 11, 2017

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