Schoolboy brothers Daithi and Cathal Owens, who saw their two-year-old sister, Katie, mauled and seriously injured in an attack by a Brazilian tapir at Dublin Zoo, have received damages settlements of €33,000 each for nervous shock.
Judge John O’Connor, approving the €66,000 compensation pay-out today in the Circuit Civil Court, heard the boys were only eight and six when the savage attack was launched by the tapir, named Rio, during a visit by the Co Mayo family to the zoo in August 2013.
Katie, who suffered serious arm and stomach injuries, was saved when her mother, Patricia Frost, risked her own life by throwing her body against the enraged animal and between it and her baby toddler.
The court, which two years ago approved a €25,000 settlement to another sibling, 10-year-old Ruari, was told by barrister Francis McGagh (correct) that Rio attacked after the Owens family had been allowed into the enclosure for a close-up with Rio and her new-born calf, Jenny.
The attack made world headlines at the time and the Zoological Society of Ireland was charged with breaching health and safety regulations, but was spared a criminal conviction after agreeing to pay €5,000 to local charities.
Katie, following first aid treatment at the zoo, had been rushed to Temple Street Children’s Hospital for emergency surgery. Her mother was also hospitalised and treated for injuries in Dublin’s Mater Hospital.
Mr McGagh, who appeared with Cathy McDarby of Mayo solicitors McDarby and Co, told Judge O’Connor that Daithi, now aged 15, and Cathal, now 13, had visited the zoo with their parents Darragh Owens and Patricia Frost, and siblings Ruari (now 17) and Katie (now nine) and by arrangement through a friend had been allowed, with a zookeeper, to enter the tapir’s enclosure.
It is believed the tapir, usually a docile mammal, attacked following an “excited screech” by little Katie, picking her up in its mouth and violently shaking her. In a split-second response her mother had thrown herself on the tapir, dislodging her daughter from the animal’s mouth, as the zookeeper and the child’s father, restrained the attacking animal.
Mr McGagh, who, with Cathy McDarby, has represented the family, of Orchard House, Mochara, Shrule, Co Mayo, throughout their seven year legal proceedings, told Judge O’Connor that Daithi and Cathal had suffered significant psychological trauma in the aftermath of the incident including disturbing recall incidents, nightmares and anxiety.
“The boys had been terrified, shocked and shaken,” Mr McGagh said.
He said the publication in a medical journal of little Katie’s horrific injuries and further publication of the pictures in the media generally had undoubtedly greatly exacerbated the family’s distress.
Mr McGagh has already told the Circuit Civil Court, which is limited to awards of up to €60,000, that a personal injury claim on behalf of Katie and claims on behalf of her parents had been launched in the unlimited financial jurisdiction of the High Court.
The claims on behalf of Mr Owens and Ms Frost may be settled out of court at any time.
Tapirs, which are normally docile animals, look something like a committee-designed long-nosed pig and a small horse.