Disney World is facing a serious liability after a fatal alligator attack at one of its resorts that claimed the life of a 2-year-old boy. The toddler had been splashing in 6 inches of water along the shore of a man-made lagoon, where the resort invited guests to gather that evening to watch an outdoor movie.
Posted alongside of the shore were a number of “No Swimming” signs, but nowhere did it mention the threat of alligators – despite the fact that alligators were known to live in the water and further, staffers had complained to management that guests had been feeding the gators and they feared there would be an incident.
Legal analysts and personal injury attorneys reviewing the known facts of the case have largely concluded that those “No Swimming” signs probably weren’t enough to issue an adequate warning for a serious risk that was foreseeable. The park, which attracts 55 million visitors annually, cooperated with wildlife officials and law enforcement in terminating six alligators on the premises and have also created additional barriers to the site. However, these actions will not be enough to shield the company from liability.
Although the family has not as of this writing filed a wrongful death lawsuit (and they may not have to if the company extends a swift and fair settlement with them), if they did pursue litigation, it would at its heart be an issue of premises liability. Although businesses can’t protect residents from every possible harm they may encounter, those that invite patrons onsite for purposes of engaging in commercial transactions for the benefit of that business owe the highest duty of care to protect invitees.
That means either addressing known dangers on the property or, if that’s not feasible, warning guests about it. Most wildlife experts agree that removing alligators permanently from the 200-acre site isn’t really an option, given the pervasiveness of alligators in the state and the fact that they occupy most every body of freshwater here. But management could have either erected some type of barrier. Otherwise, the obligation would have been to warn people of the possible danger, particularly in light of the fact management had reports of people feeding the animals, which is illegal and causes the creatures to lose their fear of humans and associated humans with food. There is also a report indicating staffers specifically requested fencing from management, but those requests were ignored.
Some have opined that the park avoided installing such signs and barriers in the first place for aesthetic reasons and because to have “scary” warnings of predatory animals so close to the resort would have been off-putting to guests. But guests had a right to be warned of potential danger. Plus, if the park could not get rid of the alligators and didn’t want to build a fence, why was a beach created in the first place? Probably for appearances sake, but the fact is, beaches invite people to swim. The sign may say one thing, but the look of the site says something totally different. And it’s not as if this child was even waist-deep in the water. He was up to about his knees and his father was just steps away.
Our Orlando injury lawyers would point out that another factor that should have been considered is the vast majority of visitors to Disney are from out-of-state. Most are unfamiliar with alligators. Native Floridians and those who have lived here a long time know not to jump in or go near the edge of a freshwater body, especially at night. But that’s not common knowledge everywhere, and that should have played into the decision for additional warning signs.
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Disney’s liability, prior knowledge questioned, June 21, 2016, By Roger Yu, USA Today
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