Farmington, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) – An employee mauled by a captive bear at one of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands resorts is suing the resort’s ownership, veterinary consultants and enclosure designers over her injuries.
Megan Alborg filed a complaint against Nemacolin Woodlands Resort on July 15, saying the resort and its consultants were negligent in having minimally trained employees interact with a captive bear in the Wildlife Adventure section of the resort.
In July 2019, Alborg was working as a “wildlife associate” at the resort and was providing four resort visitors with a tour of the wildlife exhibits. When the group arrived at the bear enclosure, where Kooter, the Himalayan black bear lived, Alborg proceeded with the “high five” trick as she’d been instructed.
According to the complaint, the “high five” trick required Alborg to hold a marshmallow in one hand. The goal was for the bear to “high five” Alborg’s other hand through an opening in its enclosure, and then receive the marshmallow as a reward.
Instead, when Alborg went to do the trick, Kooter grabbed her arm and attacked.
“Suddenly and without warning, Kooter pulled Megan’s right arm through the unprotected opening and ferociously mauled her,” the complaint says. “Megan’s arm was horrifically gashed and torn apart, and she suffered severe blood loss.”
Two other Wildlife Adventure employees pulled Alborg to safety, the complaint said.
“Megan’s blood loss would likely have been fatal but for the makeshift tourniquet applied by a nearby hotel guest who happened to be a trauma nurse,” attorney’s for Alborg noted in the complaint.
Guests paid $90 for the “guided safari” tours according to Nemacolin ads at the time and were viewed as an opportunity to “experience a behind the scenes, interactive look at exotic animals.”
Ultimately, Alborg had her thumb amputated, underwent more than 15 surgeries for her injuries and ultimately suffered limited use of her arm.
At the time of the attack, Nemacolin said it was focused on helping Alborg recover.
“In the wake of what happened to one of my Nemacolin family members on July 20, my number one concern is to provide the best care for our associate, and any resources needed for our family and anyone else impacted by this event. Our thoughts, hearts and prayers are with everyone involved,” Maggie Hardy Knox, president of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, said in a press release at the time, according to WTAE.
But attorneys for Alborg said the resort and its consultants failed to adequately train employees to interact with the bear, especially when the bear was likely to be stressed by hot weather.
“At the time of the attack, the ‘high five’ trick was too dangerous and unreasonable for any staff member to perform, despite being required to do so by agents of the Nemacolin defendants,” the complaint said. “At the time of the attack, the bear cage was inadequately constructed to protect tour guides like Megan.”
Alborg claims negligence against Nemacolin’s owners, as well as its consultants who approved and built the bear exhibit. Additionally, the suit claims strict liability against Nemacolin.
“Prior to the date Megan was mauled by the Himalayan black bear, the veterinarian defendants served as veterinary consultants for the Nemacolin Wildlife Exhibit,” the complaint says. “The veterinarian defendants did not advise Nemacolin Woodlands Resort employees not to perform the ‘high-five trick’ when bears were agitated due to high heat. Upon information and belief, the veterinarian defendants did not advise Nemacolin Woodlands Resort employees to avoid contact with the bears during periods of high heat.”
It is unclear if Alborg was awarded workers’ compensation for the injuries