Last night, a horrific incident happened at the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort, which is owned by Disney. An alligator snatched and drowned a 2-year-old boy.
Is Disney liable to the family for compensation for the boy’s death?
Update: CNN has reported that the family of Lane Graves, the boy killed by an alligator on Disney property, won’t sue.
Does this mean that the Disney settled the case with the toddler’s parents, and thus they don’t have to sue to get money?
I don’t know. If the family settled with Disney, the settlement would need to be approved by a judge since it involves a wrongful death.
So looking at the court filings, likely in Central Florida, would be the only way to know if a settlement has been reached.
In order to determine if Disney may be liable, you need to look at past similar cases in Florida.
1 Case in Florida Is Similar to This Boy’s Accident
There is one case in Florida that I’m aware of that is similar to this Disney incident. In 1986, a gentleman swam in Lake Alice (in Gainesville) to help a couple of people who were on a sailboat that was stuck.
While swimming out there, an alligator attacked him and he was injured. The appeals court said that the sole cause of the gentleman’s injury was his failure to obey warning signs. (I’ll get to what the signs said in a moment.)
In the Lake Alice case, the appeals court said that the property owner does not have to guard its guests, or look out for wild animals.
That is the law in Florida, and that law will apply to the Disney case as well.
2 Exceptions Where Property Owner Must Warn and Protect Its Guests from Wild Animals
However, if one of two exceptions are met, a property owner may have a duty to protect its guests from wild animals.
1rst Exception – If Wild Animal is Not Indigenous, Duty is Owed
If a wild animal is not indigenous to the area that it is found in, a property owner must protect its guest from harm.
Alligators are indigenous to lakes in Florida. Thus, a property owner may have no duty to protect its guests from alligators.
2nd Exception – If Property Owner “Possesses” the Wild Animal, Duty is Owed
The other exception is if the animal has been reduced to the possession of the owner of the property, which would mean essentially the owner of the property has taken possession of the animal.
In the Lake Alice case, the appeals court said that:
- Alligators should be expected to be in the lake
- The operator of the property didn’t reduce the alligator to its possession.
The court dismissed the man’s case. That case did not involve a private property.
However, the court said that once the operator undertook the responsibility of opening and running that property, they were treated the same as a private property owner.
Thus, the law in that case applies to the child’s drowning in the lagoon of the Disney hotel.
In the Lake Alice case, there were signs that said things like:
- “Do Not Bother the Alligators”
- “Don’t Feed the Alligators”
The swimmer in the Lake Alice case had been to the lake about 25 or more times prior to the incident, and was aware of the surroundings.
The appeals court said that he was expected to use his reasonable senses and read whatever signs are there.
No Swimming, and Alligators Signs Equals No Duty to Warn
The court said in that the combination of the “No Swimming” sign and the alligator signs were enough so that the lake operator did not owe any other duty to the man in regards to the alligators.
Three judges on a Florida appeals court decided that case. Of those three, two judges said that there was no case at all, and that is ultimately the law now, for those particular facts.
However, it’s important to note that one of the judges, in what’s called the minority opinion, which isn’t law in Florida, said that the case should have been allowed to go on.
So there is a possibility that if the family in the Disney case sues, that they may get a judge who thinks like the judge who issued the minority opinion in the Lake Alice case.
The minority judge was aware that the gentleman was swimming in an area that said “No Swimming.” However, he said that the purpose of the “No Swimming” sign in that particular case was to prevent the swimmers from getting hurt from boats that were launching into the water.
That judge also said that, even if there’s a “No Swimming” sign, you need to look at what behavior is actually occurring on that property.
He said that if there’s a “No Swimming” sign, but people are regularly swimming, that can affect whether the lake operator has a duty to watch out and protect its guests from alligators.
In the Lake Alice case, the judge with the minority opinion said that the man had no idea that there were alligators there. Even if there were alligators there, he didn’t know that they could pose a harm.
In the Disney alligator incident that happened yesterday, I’m unaware of whether the parents knew that there were alligators in the lake or knew that alligators can cause harm.
What the Parents May Have to Prove if They Sue Disney
The parents will want to try to look for evidence that may show that Disney:
- Knew of alligators in the lagoon and had a duty to warn that there were alligators there
- Knew about the dangers that alligators can cause
- Removed alligators from that lake.
I don’t know if such evidence exists.
If the parents sue Disney, and Disney didn’t have any signs warning about alligators in the lake, there’s a chance that a judge could say that Disney owed a duty to warn of alligators in the lake. This is true even though Disney had “No Swimming” signs posted in the area.
If the evidence turns out that Disney had removed alligators from this lake, or was aware that alligators were being removed from this lagoon, this may help the parents’ case. It may also help the parents case if they can show that people would regularly swim in the lagoon.
If the parents can prove that Disney is liable, you then look at whether that parents are at fault for not reasonably supervising their 2-year-old.
In Florida, a 2-year-old child is never at fault.
If Parents Sue, Disney Will Likely Blame the Parents
If the parents sue, I anticipate that Disney is going to blame the parents. If so, the percentage of blame on the parents for failure, if any, to watch the child more closely, would reduce the entire verdict.
Let’s say the parent were found to be 50% at fault for not paying better attention and watching their child. The total jury award would be reduced in half.
If the parents were only 10% at fault, the entire award would be reduced by 10%.
Were the Parents on Notice of the Alligators Before the Accident?
Another factor that’s going to come into play, is whether the child’s parents had been to the Grand Floridian before and seen alligators. If they had seen alligators before on the property, that is going to make their case more difficult.
Parents’ May Have Easier Case if Past Alligator Incidents at Lagoon
If there have been accidents at this lagoon involving alligators that Disney knew about prior to this accident happening, that could potentially help the family’s claim against Disney.
If there had been no accidents in the past regarding alligators, that would make the parents’ case tougher. I’m not aware of any incidents involving alligators at this particular lagoon.
Case Can Go Either Way
If the parents sue, I think this case could go either way. It may get dismissed even before getting to a jury, based on the fact that:
- Alligators are common in Florida.
- They’re commonly found in lakes.
- There were “No Swimming” signs.
Parents May Get the Case to Trial
There is also a chance that a judge could let the case go to a jury. If the case gets to a jury, anything is possible.
My Prediction is Disney Offers To Settle
My prediction is that if this accident results in a claim or lawsuit, Disney will try to settle the case either before a lawsuit, or during the lawsuit. Big companies don’t like bad publicity, especially involving the death of a child.
Disney Has Added a Fence and Warning Signs
- Disney Is Putting Up a Fence. Can It Be Used Against Them if Family Sues for the Death by an Alligator?
- Walt Disney World Accident and Injury Claims in Orlando
Did Disney’s carelessness cause your injury in an accident in Florida, or on a cruise? Were You Hurt in an Accident Caused by Someone Else?
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