Tiger-mauling survivors poised to sue San Francisco

The two brothers who were attacked by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo — which also fatally mauled a friend — plan to file a lawsuit against The City, according to their attorney.

In March, San Jose brothers Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, filed claims against The City, seeking an unspecified dollar amount in damages for alleged wrongdoing that included negligence, as well as emotional distress and slander, the last charge stemming from a “smear campaign” waged by a public relations firm speaking on behalf of The City, according to the legal documents.

On Friday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera released his formal response, denying the claims and adding that an investigation “revealed no indication of liability on the part of the city and county.”

An attorney for the brothers, high-profile lawyer Mark Geragos, told The Examiner on Friday that the denial means that, “now we can file a lawsuit,” which he said he would do “very shortly.”

It was Christmas Day when the Siberian tiger escaped her enclosure, attacking the brothers and killing 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. The tiger was eventually shot and killed by a San Francisco police officer.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the big-cat enclosure was about 4 feet shorter than national standards. There were also complications due to disbelief from zoo staff members, limited access to radios and guns, and a lean holiday crew, according toa report by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

According to the legal claim, the older brother “sustained deep lacerations and wounds, all over his body, head and face, requiring stitches” and injuries that required “surgery to both knees.” The younger bother had similar injuries and he required stitches for wounds on his head.

Both brothers “suffered emotional injuries” not only from the tiger attack by from the “humiliation and degradation from the smear campaign,” the claims say, which mention the name of veteran public relations consultant Sam Singer, who was hired by the San Francisco Zoo to act as a spokesman after the incident. The claim said Singer, who had suggested the brothers acted in some way to provoke the tiger to escape its enclosure, “made false statements.”

In response to the accusations, Singer said all statements made “were made honestly and in good faith and we stand by them.”

The Sousa family is also taking legal action and have retained Walnut Creek-based attorney Michael Cardoza, who said he would be filing a claim against The City within “three to four weeks, if not sooner.”

jsabatini@examiner.com

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