COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – A Richland County man says negligence at the state zoo led directly to his being attacked by a Western Lowlands gorilla that escaped from its enclosure and sent scores of visitors scrambling for safety on an early June morning in 2009.
Daveil Morris says he was quietly working in the cafeteria at the Riverbanks Zoological Park and Botanical Gardens on June 12, 2009, while unbeknownst to him, a gorilla was roaming unconfined on the zoo grounds.
Just after 9 a.m. the gorilla “suddenly, aggressively and viciously” attacked Morris, a food-service worker, who is employed by an independent contractor that runs the zoo’s cafeteria, according to the complaint in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas.
News stories published immediately after the incident by The State Newspaper in Columbia and other media organizations said the zoo was packed at the time with day-care groups and visitors. They were reportedly ushered to indoor exhibits or outside the gates until the gorilla returned to a gated sleeping area connected to his enclosure.
Western Lowland gorillas stand approximately 5-feet high, can weigh as much as 450 pounds, and are generally regarded as peaceful, zoo officials said.
All told, the gorilla, identified as a 16-year-old male named Mike, was free for about 45 minutes.
After an investigation, zoo executive director Satch Krantz said the gorilla, one of three in the enclosure, escaped by climbing on a piece of bamboo hanging over its enclosure.
Morris says he sustained bodily and personal injuries as a result of the attack that required extensive medical care and left him permanently disfigured with diminished his earning capacity.
Morris claims the zoo failed to provide proper training, supervision and direction to the employees responsible for maintaining and confining the zoo’s animals, exhibits and overall premises, and that zoo officials failed to warn the public, both before and after the gorilla’s escape, of the dangers associated with gorilla’s outside their natural habitat.
Morris seeks unspecified damages on claims of negligence and strict liability. He is represented by B. Reynolds Elliott with McDonald, McKenzie, Rubin, Miller and Lybrand.