Judge Rules City Not Liable in Lawsuit Alleging Typhus from Stray Kittens

A judge has ruled in favor of the city of Long Beach in a lawsuit brought by a resident who alleged he contracted typhus in 2019 from the city’s failure to remove homeless kittens possibly carrying fleas near his home.

Long Beach Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim found that the city was not negligent and that the harm plaintiff Caesar Colorado suffered was unforeseeable. Kim previously conducted a nonjury trial of the suit.

Colorado, 59, maintained in his suit filed in June 2020 that he went to the city’s Animal Care Services office in late May or June 2019 and asked that 13 roaming cats be picked up from the public alley behind his backyard. An employee of the agency told him they could not take away the felines because they were not yet eight weeks old nor at least two pounds, the suit stated.

The employee gave Colorado vouchers to get free food for the animals, according to his court papers.

“The city ordered me to interact with and feed the feral/stray cats near my property until they reached a weight and age that the city would accept them,” Colorado said in a sworn declaration.

Colorado further said he was not warned by the city that he could contract a disease when interacting with the cats, nor was he given any training or told to wear protective clothing.

Within days of feeding the kittens, Colorado was bitten by insects he believes were fleas, the suit states. He suffered from headaches and a fever and in July 2019, he fell to the floor of his home unconscious, the suit stated.

A friend found Colorado hours later and the plaintiff, unable to stand, was taken by ambulance to Long Beach Medical Center, where he experienced kidney failure, according to the suit. He remained in the hospital for more than a month and was diagnosed with typhus, then underwent dialysis for several weeks after he was released until his kidneys were normal, according to the complaint.

At the time of the filing of the suit, Colorado still had hip pain and problems walking after his struggle with typhus, according to his court papers.

Lawyers for the city maintained that Colorado could not tie his injuries to any wrongdoing on the city’s part or prove that the city knew of the alleged dangerous condition of the city property. The defense attorneys also maintained the city was immune from liability.

The judge ultimately agreed with the defense, finding that the city was not liable in the case. While the plaintiff may have suffered harm, the court found that the city did not act negligently, and the harm was not foreseeable.

The case highlights the complex issues surrounding stray animals and public health. While cities have a duty to provide animal control services and ensure the safety of their citizens, it is not always clear what actions are necessary or appropriate in situations involving stray animals. In this case, the court determined that the city did not breach its duty and was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

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