The escape of three young leopards from the Hangzhou Wildlife World in Zhejiang Province has attracted great social concern. So far, two have been captured and one is still at large. Apart causing some people to be frightened, and to pay close attention to their surroundings, the incident has also caused the community to erupt in anger, since a huge wildlife company apparently withheld relevant information from the public. In fact, at this point, the manager of the Wildlife World appears to be in serious trouble.
That said, as the general public’s instincts indicate, accountability is a must. We decided to write this brief article to address some ways in which the public can pursue accountability.
Q1: What if an escaped animal hurts people?
According to Article 1248 of the PRC Civil Code, “where any damage is caused to another person by a zoo animal, the zoo shall assume tort liability; however, if the zoo can prove that it has exercised due care in management, it shall be exempted from tort liability.”
The above clause applies regardless of whether the animal is in the zoo or has escaped. However, in this case, it seems clear that the zoo failed to ” exercise due care in management.” So, if the escaped animals were to injure someone, there is no proviso clause for the zoo to avoid tort liability.
In addition, according to China’s Criminal Law, if the animal seriously injury, or causes death or other serious consequences, in addition to civil tort liability, the zoo may also be criminally liable. For example, the zoo might be charged with crimes related to Negligence Causing Death or Endangering Public Safety By Dangerous Means.
Q2: The zoo appears to have concealed relevant information. What is their liability for this?
The Hangzhou Wildlife World is suspected of the crime of “Failing to report a safety incident” under Chapter 2 (“Crimes against public safety”) of the Criminal Law.
Article 139 (a) states that ”where after the occurrence of an accident endangering safety, the person whose duty it is to report such occurrence fails to do so or makes a false report about the accident, thus causing the delay of rescue efforts, if the circumstances are serious, the said person shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years or criminal detention; and if the circumstances are especially serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years.”
Additionally, the PRC Work Safety Law stipulates more specifically about the liability for misreporting, concealment and late reporting. Under these provisions, in addition to criminal liability, the responsible person is subject to punishment including fines, rectification orders, and/or removal from their position. On top of this, the organization itself would likely be fined and its activities suspended. In case of particularly serious circumstances, the primary person in charge may be barred from serving similar position again for five years, or even for life.
Finally, in the event of a death, serious injury, or other serious consequences, Article 134 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the crime of “major liability accidents”, will also likely apply.
Here, the concealment of relevant information could be deemed to have put the public at risk, perhaps deliberately endangering public safety.
Q3: Which entities should be accountable?
As mentioned above, “Hangzhou Wildlife World Co., Ltd.”, as an independent legal entity and as the production and management unit, is the primary responsible entity. However, the identification of the “main responsible person” could include not only the legal representative who should be held responsible under the Company Law, but also the directly responsible staff.
In fact, we have seen this in practice, since the Public Security Bureau of Fuyang District in Hangzhou already filed a case and launched an investigation into the alleged crimes of the relevant personnel. On May 10, measures were taken against five persons deemed responsible (including the legal representative and general manager Zhang Dequan).
From a legal perspective, the concealment of information is much more problematic than the escape of a few baby leopards. Not only does it delay official actions, it exposes the public to greater danger.
This fits with the broader perspective that, in emergencies, late reporting, misreporting, or concealing information are the worst things to do, and are largely unjustified under any circumstances.
In any emergency, promptly informing the appropriate authorities or organizations and seeking counsel from lawyers is the best way to properly minimize all-around risk and hopefully solve the problem. We at Dawo are always available to help you through difficult situations like this.