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Could Jurassic Park Be Held Liable?

I thought to celebrate the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I would look at the responsibility Jurassic Park would have for the serious injuries, psychiatric harm and deaths that occurred in the first film.

I have ignored any potential claim that could be brought by Denis Nedry as in my view; he is the author of his own misfortune. The only way he could bring a claim would be to establish that Jurassic Park should have prevented him from sabotaging the security system that he built and was solely responsible for. I can’t imagine that a court would be sympathetic to this argument.

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Jurassic Park would have a duty to take reasonable care in order to prevent all guests and employees coming to harm.

Is Jurassic Park responsible for Denis Nedry’s actions?

Whether Jurassic Park bears responsibility for the consequences of their rogue employee’s actions, called vicarious liability, depends on the following:

  • Was there a sufficient relationship between Nedry and Jurassic Park to give rise to vicarious liability?

  • Was there a sufficient connection between Nedry’s actions and the relationship between Nedry and Jurassic Park to justify a finding of vicarious liability?

In respect of the first question, Nedry was an employee of Jurassic Park so there would be a sufficient relationship to give rise to vicarious liability.

In terms of Nedry’s actions, the claimants would need to show that this was an act in the course of Nedry’s employment. It is likely that his sabotage would be deemed to be an act in the course of his employment as it was done during working hours from his work computer. Furthermore operating the computer systems was part of Nedry’s role so even when he does this in an improper manner, it is likely to still be deemed an action that is closely connected with his employment. As such, vicarious liability could arise in this situation.

It is important to note that the failure of the first Jurassic Park is not due to a malfunction or error (e.g. computer system failing) or a failure to take appropriate measures (e.g. to build fences of a suitable height and strength). Instead the failure is due to a deliberate act of sabotage by one of their employees.

Many might be surprised to learn that even where an employee such as Nedry has deliberately committed a criminal act in the course of his employment, his employer could still be responsible for the consequences of that act. There are a number of situations where this has been held to be the case, such as where an employee attacks a customer e.g. nightclub bouncer and where an employee attacked other employees in the course of doing their job. In these cases, a court will carefully consider whether it is justified for the employer to be responsible for the actions of their employee.

When determining whether an employer should be held responsible for the deliberate wrongful act of their employee, the court will look at, amongst other things, the opportunity that the employer gave to their employee to abuse their power and the vulnerability of potential victims to the wrongful exercise of the employee’s power.

In this case, Jurassic Park appears to have given Nedry unlimited power over the computer systems. He was the only one who could operate them and was also able to effectively lock anyone else out of the system. There appears to have been no system of supervision of his work. What is particularly striking is that there appears to be no inbuilt system preventing employees from turning off the fences. If Jurassic Park was being built today, it seems likely that there would be some protections in place to ensure that vital systems such as the fences could not be turned off or at the very least required the co-operation of more than one senior employee. It seems unlikely that it would have been onerous for Jurassic Park to have set up a system whereby in order to turn off vital systems, passwords/keys/other forms of identification were needed from two people. This in itself would have prevented one rogue employee from taking the entire system down. As it was, Jurassic Park appears to have vested too much power in one employee with insufficient safeguards and supervision to ensure that this power could not be abused.

It should also have been clear on even a basic risk analysis that if Nedry was to abuse his power and disable the security systems, this would make any other employees or guests vulnerable to serious injury or death. Their only back up to the security fences on an island filled with dinosaurs appears to have been one armed gamekeeper. This seems inadequate at best and does not suggest that the safety of their guests was the highest priority for Jurassic Park.

Overall, due to their inadequate systems of supervision and their failure to put in place sufficient safeguards in order to prevent the catastrophic actions of a rogue employee, I believe that Jurassic Park would likely be liable for Denis Nedry’s actions.

Guests

Guests at an establishment should be able to assume that they are safe and that adequate safeguards have been put in place to protect them. They would not normally be deemed to have taken on the risk themselves of activities, although they may have consented to a certain level of danger arising from specific circumstances. For instance, if you go skiing, you may take on some risk of harm from the obviously dangerous activity. You would be entitled however to assume that the skis you hired were adequately made and suitable for the activity of skiing and that the ski paths laid out in the resort should be reasonably safe.

In the same way, the guests at Jurassic Park should be entitled to assume that they would be safe from dinosaur attacks while visiting. As such I believe those guests who were injured as a result of Nedry’s actions should have a claim against Jurassic Park.

Employees

I would distinguish employees who understood that direct engagement with dinosaurs would be part of their role (such as Muldoon) and those employees who would not normally be required to engage with dinosaurs (such as Arnold). Those who would not normally engage cannot be said to have assumed any risk of harm by dinosaurs. They should be able to claim for any harm resulting from Nedry’s actions.

It might be argued that employees such as Muldoon however would have accepted some risk that they may be harmed by the animals they are dealing with particularly if they were the author of their own misfortune. They would still be entitled to expect sufficient robust safeguards be put in place to reduce this risk e.g. adequate fences, suitable tools to carry out tasks, proper training and system of work etc. given the obvious danger presented. In this case, I believe that Jurassic Park would ultimately be responsible for the death of Muldoon. This is because he was attacked by a raptor who had escaped its enclosure following the power being turned off. He would not have expected to encounter this type of danger in the normal course of his employment and as such he can not be said to have accepted this level of risk. It was however the foreseeable result of the rogue actions of Nedry and as such, Jurassic Park would be vicariously liable for his death.

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