The toddler, Lane Graves, was snatched by an alligator as he was splashing in about six-to-twelve inches of water, about one foot in at the bank of a man-made, freshwater pond, his father just footsteps away. His father wrestled with the alligator to try to free his son, but tragically, he did not succeed. The boy’s body was found intact after an exhaustive 16-hour search.
Soon after word of this nightmare emerged, it was revealed that there were “No Swimming” signs posted nearby. However, there was no mention of alligators or any other wild animal. Of course, those of us who live in Florida are familiar with the fact that any freshwater body – and even some saltwater – is a potential habitat for gators. But this was a resort and it was known many people would be staying from out-of-town. This family was no exception, as they’d been visiting from Nebraska.
But could Disney be liable for wrongful death in this case?
Based one what we know of the case, it seems plausible.
First, let’s start with the fact that Disney is a business and it invites members of the public onto its property for a fee, from which it derives a profit. That means it owes the highest duty of care to its guests to ensure the property is reasonably safe for them. That would include posting appropriate signage near water where it is known wild alligators live.
Of course, some might argue that it’s not Disney’s job to protect guests from all possible dangers, the company did owe a duty to protect against foreseeable dangers, and this would certainly be one. Even though the company opines there has never been an alligator attack like this on its property in 45 years, it is well-known that alligators have been known to attack people at the edge of water, particularly in the evening or at night. It’s been asked why the resort didn’t simply get rid of all the alligators on its property to begin with. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported the company does routinely remove alligators from the property, but most wildlife experts agree that would be virtually impossible to get rid of them all. But that also tells us that Disney knew or should have known waters on its property were inhabited by alligators. So then the question becomes, did the company do enough to warn guests of the danger?
If there is a finding that they knew of the alligators’ presence and did not pass this information on to guests, that could be considered negligence. In fact, there could even be grounds to argue gross negligence, which is a higher legal standard that requires a showing of actual disregard for the safety and welfare of guests. This is particularly true because there are now reports that staffers were aware of an ongoing problem of guests feeding the alligators. Some staff members had asked management to install some type of fencing, but those requests went unheeded.
What’s more, the park reportedly encouraged people to gather in that location by inviting families to come to the beach to watch movies and fireworks. Although speculation is that the park did not want to scare guests by posting signs about potentially dangerous alligators. But if you can’t fix the problem, the question is, why even have a beach there in the first place?
The park has since said it is installing more signage and temporary barriers at beach resort locations until they can work out a permanent, long-term solution.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Disney’s liability, prior knowledge questioned, June 21, 2016, By Roger Yu, USA Today
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