A Legal Analysis of Tiger King, Episode 2: “Cult of Personality”

May 12, 2020

By: Thomas K. Rinaldi

Chaos continues for Joe Exotic’s attorney. After explaining insurance coverage issues to Mr. Exotic, next I would discuss why he should consider having his guests sign a liability waiver and release. 

Why can’t a tiger become an herbivore? Because a tiger cannot change its stripes. All tigers – except maybe lovable icons Tony and Tigger – have bad days. Bad days with a live-action big cat can be downright awful when a tiger bites the literal hand that feeds. Although Mr. Exotic offers his guests a ticket refund or raincheck the day a tiger attacked one of his employees, what liability might G.W. Zoo face if a guest were mauled instead? The answer could depend on whether the zoo’s guest signed a waiver and release.

As general counsel to G.W. Zoo and Mr. Exotic, I would explain the value of having guests sign a waiver and release that surrenders their rights to sue for an accident caused by the zoo’s negligence. Of course, the waiver and release would not protect the zoo from reckless or intentional conduct. 

So, for example, imagine that Carole Baskin buys a ticket to the zoo and executes a waiver and release. If Mr. Exotic intentionally pushes her into a tiger cage where she is mauled, the release will likely not be enforceable. However, if Ms. Baskin trips and falls in the zoo’s gift shop while shopping for a new pair of tiger-print underwear, the waiver and release might be enforceable against her personal injury claim. 

Liability waivers must be clear to be enforceable. Although, Mr. Exotic’s lyrics in “I Saw a Tiger” are pure poetry, he should rely upon counsel to write a liability waiver. Also, it’s important for Mr. Exotic to understand that a waiver executed on behalf of a minor might not be enforceable under certain circumstances. For instance, in Florida, pre-injury liability waivers signed on behalf of children in a commercial context are generally not enforceable. 

Don’t be like Joe. If you need help understanding general liability waivers (especially in this time of coronavirus reopening), please feel free to contact Thomas K. Rinaldi, a.k.a. the “Attorney Ordinary,” in Florida or Joshua O’Neill in New York.