The Jurassic universe does not have a fondness for members of the legal community. This comes as somewhat of a shock since most of the InGen antics undoubtedly have far-reaching legal ramifications, and there are likely dozens of attorneys with the sole purpose of keeping the company out of too much trouble. After diving into the intricacies surrounding the legalities surrounding Jurassic Park, it is honestly difficult to decide who had the harder job, the geneticists or the lawyers. As an attorney myself, my goal here is to expound briefly on what liabilities Jurassic Park likely faced upon its implosion and of course, avoid being eaten on a toilet.
For this article, we are going to have to make a few big assumptions. First assumption: the laws of the United States apply. Most smart companies with assets in foreign countries will establish a subsidiary in the country where those assets reside. The benefit of the subsidiary means that any lawsuits brought against the company can utilize the foreign country’s laws and court system. Some companies elect to do this if they see that the foreign country’s laws are more favorable in a particular area where they are at risk of a lawsuit. Even though InGen was headquartered in California, Jurassic Park was built on Costa Rican soil. I cannot find any reference to an InGen subsidiary in Costa Rica in any of the canon, and since classifying InGen as a “smart” company gives me pause, it is entirely possible that lawsuits filed by American paleontologists, chaoticians, and tourists back in the United States could follow U.S. laws.
But assuming the United States law governs, what kind of disastrous bill is InGen in store for? Well, we know they were on the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy following the events of Jurassic Park, but what put them there? In California, where Jurassic Park was originally supposed to be built, the laws surrounding actual zoos are no laughing matter. Regulations control nearly every aspect of the park, from the specifications of building enclosures, right down to posting correct signage. In the eyes of the law, housing and maintaining a wild animal is virtually the same as working with uranium or using explosives. It is known as an “ultrahazardous activity.” Conducting these types of activities in California comes with a harsh legal consequence – the party conducting the activity is strictly liable for any injuries these animals cause to park patrons. In other words, even the most careful of zoos are likely to be held accountable for visitors wounded by the animals. Basically, even the countless miles of Jurassic Park electrified fences would not be able to hold back the costly verdict from an injured park-goer.
While the concept of a Jurassic Park may be fiction, the situation of an escaped wild animal in a zoo is certainly not. In 2011, a 300-pound gorilla named “Little Joe” escaped from his enclosure at the New England Zoo. After the gorilla attacked a two-year-old child, a jury found that the zoo failed to use reasonable care to keep the gorilla confined and awarded the child’s family a verdict of $175,000. Eerily enough, the most similar incident to Jurassic Park took place in the same state where the original park was supposed to be built. In 2007, a Siberian tiger jumped out of its enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo and ran amok inside the park. Before being subdued, the tiger killed one boy and injured two brothers. The surviving brothers sued the zoo and settled for a costly $900,000 sum before trial.
With the deaths seen in Jurassic Park, it would not be unthinkable for a jury to award family members of the victims an even greater amount. Many factors are taken into consideration for a wrongful death suit. These can include the victim’s pre-death pain and suffering, funeral and burial cost, loss of income, loss of love and companionship, and value of services the victim could have provided, among many others. These concepts are purposefully abstract and let a jury determine an appropriate amount based on their own thoughts and experiences. A jury presented with a wrongful death case involving a mauling from an escaped velociraptor could run wild with these figures. While it is hard to speculate on an exact number, think upwards of a potential $1.5 million per victim if there’s no cap on the amount of damages a victim can receive.
Just as a side note, as expensive as the Jurassic Park incident would have been, it would not hold a candle to the expense of battling the lawsuits from the injured park-goers of Jurassic World. There is no doubt that the numerous attendees would have brought a class action lawsuit, and California law nearly assures that such an action has to be brought in California. If the Jurassic Park incident nearly put InGen into bankruptcy, the Jurassic World incident should have obliterated the Masrani Company. In the words of Claire Dearing, “We’d never reopen.”
This brings up assumption number two: InGen did not make the visiting dinosaur experts sign any waivers of liability. While such a waiver would not likely bar the injured guests from recovering money for their damages, it could put a cap on how much they could recover. In addition, it might force the victim to give up their right to a jury trial and mandate they attend arbitration instead. Arbitration is an alternate form of dispute resolution that divorces the issue from the government court systems. Rules can be more relaxed, and this can work in favor of the company in some cases. Most theme parks today include language on the back of their ticket stubs that stipulate arbitration as a mandatory requirement of enjoying the park. Next time you head to a big theme park, or even a sports event, check your ticket for what you are actually signing up for.
What are your thoughts on InGen being held accountable for their actions? Are costly settlements enough or should InGen execs just all be subjected to the same fate as Gennaro? Sound off with your opinions in the comments below.