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Behrens v. Bertram Mills Circus, Ltd.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant’s circus elephant chased after Plaintiff’s dog. While chasing the dog, the elephant injured Plaintiff and damaged Plaintiff’s booth. Plaintiff brought suit.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The owner of an animal, which is considered wild, is strictly liable for any damage the animal causes when the animal is out of the owner’s control, even if the animal is tame.

    Facts.

    Bertram Mills Circus Ltd. (Defendant) granted Whitehead (Plaintiff’s manager) a license to have Mrs. J. H. W. Behrens (Plaintiff) and her husband work at Defendant’s circus. Defendant forbade the presence of dogs. Plaintiff’s husband ignored the prohibition and brought his dog to the circus. The dog barked at one of Defendant’s trained elephants, which began to chase the dog. Consequently, the elephant injured Plaintiff and damaged her booth.

    Issue.

    Whether an owner of an tame animal, which is considered wild, strictly liable for any damage it causes when out of the owner’s control.

    Held.

    Yes. The Court found in favor of the Behrenses. The owner of an animal considered wild, even if tame and trained, is strictly liable for any damage it may cause when it is out of the owner’s control.

    Discussion.

    Despite their established harmless nature, elephants are wild animals. Furthermore, although the Bertram’s elephant was trained and tame, the elephant is still considered wild under the law. Strict liability is appropriate because wild animals, especially if left uncontrolled, are likely to attack human beings.


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