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Could Disney Be Liable for Alligator Attack?

Jason Reese

Earlier this week, two-year-old Lane Graves was vacationing with his family at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The family was relaxing near a man-made lagoon in the proximity of the theme park’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa when an alligator pulled the young child into the water. He was standing only inches deep in the lagoon, and his father, being nearby, attempted to pull his child away from the attacking animal but was unsuccessful. Within 24 hours, the body of Lane Graves was found intact, but the boy did not survive. He drowned during the attack.

Over the course of the past 48 hours, people and media outlets have asked many questions about who is at fault for this horrific tragedy. Some people point fingers at the grieving parents for allowing their child into the lagoon in the first place, as there were “No Swimming” signs posted. Many others are asking if Disney is at fault, and rightly so.

Defining the Standard of Care Is Key Question

Though different jurisdictions might deal with this question in slightly different ways, the key question will really be whether Disney met the standard of care expected in this situation. It could be a tricky question, as the situation has unique aspects. Disney HAD posted “No Swimming” signs, but there will be additional questions, namely whether or not they did enough. The following information would prove important in a wrongful death lawsuit against Disney.

How much did Disney know about the likelihood of alligators in the lagoon?

In the aftermath of the accident, Disney has removed at least five alligators from the lagoon. In addition, they have stated they have full-time staff who work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to ensure alligators are “regularly removed” from the property. In Florida, the normal process requires a state trapper to come out and remove an alligator, but at Disney, they are allowed to remove the gators.

Based on these facts, we can safely assume Disney is aware of the possibility of alligators in their waterways and on their property.

Was there an assumption of risk by the family because they were vacationing in Florida, where experts and locals understand the presence of gators to be a serious and unavoidable risk?

Maybe. If this were to be part of a defense argument, there would be a counterargument finding the assumption of risk mitigated by the fact that the family is not from Florida and may not have fully understood the risk.

In addition, this may point to a higher standard of care for Disney, an entity which is certainly aware of the millions of visitors drawn to their resort from locations other than Florida. With this in mind, the question becomes about whether or not Disney did enough to protect their guests.

Given their knowledge of the risk, did Disney do enough to protect their guests from an alligator attack?

Neighboring resorts actually post no swimming signs alongside warning about the presence of alligators. Should Disney have done the same or taken other steps to inform out-of-state visitors about the dangers of alligators in Florida? In a lawsuit, this decision would likely be made by a jury after hearing a great deal of expert witness testimony.

Disney is almost certain to face a multi-million dollar lawsuit, though given their aversion to negative press, they are likely to attempt to settle out of court and quickly. The death of Lane Graves strikes at the core of Disney’s family values and their product, and they will not want the case in the press any longer than necessary.

Were You or a Loved One Injured While Visiting an Entertainment Venue?

Even if you were injured at the private home of another, you may have a premises liability case against the individual or company who owed you a standard of care. Call the attorneys at Wagner Reese for a free consultation today: (888) 204-8440.


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