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Monday, Oct 28 2013 06:41 PM

Zoo visitor's lawsuit over attack by a raccoon is rejected by jury

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Ian Smith shows, on Feb. 1, 2010, the injuries he suffered when attacked by a raccoon at CALM.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Ian Smith suffered severe injuries to his hands when he was attacked by a raccoon at CALM. He also had injuries to his right calf. This photo was taken Feb. 1, 2010.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

A jury Monday found in favor of a Bakersfield zoo owned by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office in a case involving a 2010 raccoon attack.

Ian Smith was visiting the zoo with his autistic daughter when the attack occurred Jan. 31. He filed a lawsuit in Kern County Superior Court seeking more than $25,000 in lost wages, as well as medical expenses and general damages, according to court documents.

During the attack, the raccoon bit through Smith's finger, and also bit his foot and leg after charging at Smith and his daughter, he said in court documents.

KCSOS operates the California Living Museum, or CALM, a zoo that primarily exhibits native California wildlife.

It was the second time the lawsuit came before a jury. The same case resulted in a mistrial last year.

In the new trial, Smith's side said he had ongoing nerve damage from the incident.

Neither Smith nor his Bakersfield attorney, Greg Muir, could be reached for comment.

KCSOS attorney Michael Kellar said he was pleased with the outcome.

"I believe it was the correct decision," he said. "It's our belief there was no substantial risk of harm on that day. CALM personnel believed the raccoon had left the grounds."

The raccoon had only been at CALM for about a month when it escaped its enclosure. Seven hours passed without a sighting, so staff at the zoo assumed the animal had run off into the relatively remote area that surrounds the zoo.

That assumption proved to be incorrect when the animal attacked Smith in front of his 8-year-old daughter.

After struggling with the raccoon for about five minutes, Smith pinned the animal to the ground until help arrived. The raccoon was euthanized. It tested negative for rabies.

Last year, a different jury concluded, by a 9-3 vote in favor of Smith, that a dangerous condition existed at CALM at the time of the raccoon attack. But the jury hung on the question of liability, and the judge declared a mistrial.

Unlike criminal trials, civil juries can reach a verdict with nine or more jurors.

KCSOS paid Smith's medical bills for the first year after the attack, "as a show of faith," Kellar said, but Smith wasn't satisfied.

Payments that first year totaled $75,000, Kellar said.

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