A guide to making a No Win No Fee exotic pet attack claim
More than 1,000 species of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, are now traded as pets. The trend for keeping exotic animals in the home has grown considerably over the past few years.
Interest in these exotic creatures has also led to a number of mobile petting zoos being created - offering a variety of animal encounters for children's parties, pet therapy sessions, schools, corporate events, fêtes and shows
It is estimated that there are around 160 such businesses operating in the UK; with animals ranging from exotic mammals to reptiles and "mini-beasts".
Although some of these exotic pets present a low risk of injury, others, which are predatory, venomous or poisonous may be dangerous.
Why might exotic pets attack?
Recreating their natural habitat as closely as possible, considering their natural diet, environment, social habits and behaviours can be difficult and complex. Some animals may become territorial and aggressive when they reach maturity or their needs are not met in their captive environment. They may also become frightened and anxious.
All these factors may lead an animal to attack. According to NHS Health Episode Statistics, there were 760 incidences attributable to exotic pets between 2004 and 2010; with numbers of animals having doubled since then, attacks are likely to increase.
What sort of injuries may be sustained?
The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine categorises injuries as follows:
Creatures such as large amphibians and reptiles (frogs, lizards and non-venomous snakes (pythons, boa-constrictors)) and primates may inflict injuries including crushing and tearing or ?dry' bites, claw lacerations, tail strikes, and constriction.
In addition, wounds from bites and scratches may become infected from bacteria commonly carried by exotic animals.
Envenomations and stings
Envenomation occurs when an animal bites and injects venom into its victim. Envenomations from ?poisonous' snakes, fishes, cone marine snails, spiders and centipedes, as well as stings from scorpions, may cause toxic or allergic effects (or both), and may also result in infection.
Depending on the species' poison, envenomations either affect the blood - causing clots or haemorrhages - or the nervous system - leading to respiratory failure or the brain being oxygen deprived.
Although serious, snake bites are not usually fatal to humans, but do involve pain, local swelling, dizziness and nausea. Fish stings may have the same symptoms. A bite from a spider may cause pain, local swelling, and lymphangitis (inflammation of the walls of the lymphatic vessels)
Most envenomations cause some degree of allergic reaction; from mild irritation and swelling to the risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis. These may take effect within minutes, before any other signs or symptoms appear.
What should someone attacked by an exotic pet do?
Exotic pet-linked injuries may be mild, moderate or severe - even initially minor-seeming incidents may progress to major medical episodes.
Regardless of the species involved or nature of the injury, medical attention should be sought immediately. The wound must be cleaned and dressed and, in cases of envenomation or stings, specific antidotes given. Severe cases may require blood transfusion and cardio-respiratory or renal support.
Anyone sustaining a severe allergic reaction will need immediate anti-allergy therapy.
Antibiotics may be administered to prevent infections and potential septicaemia from the introduction of bacteria through bites and lacerations.
Should a claim be brought for an attack by an exotic pet?
People keeping exotic pets should never forget that the creatures are essentially wild animals and may display defensive or aggressive behaviour. They must be responsible for the animals' welfare and ensure they are not put into situations that may lead to them inflicting injury on someone.
Public access to exotic species should be controlled and supervised.
Anyone injured by an exotic pet, even in a private home, may be able to claim for special damages to cover medical costs and out-of-pocket expenses - healthcare, travel expenses and loss of earnings.
In more serious cases it may be necessary to claim for ongoing care and loss of future salary. It may also be possible to claim for general damages for pain and suffering.