Lane Graves was an adorable two year old. On June 14, 2016, an alligator killed him at Disney. Specifically, the attack took place at the Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney World’s Grand Floridian hotel in Orlando.
Many people think that the boy was eaten by the alligator. While he was not eaten, the alligator did bite and drown him.
This is a extremely sad event. My heart goes out to Lane and his family. Nevertheless, here I want to give my thoughts on how much Disney may have paid if there was a settlement.
The $10 Million Settlement Figure is My Best Guess
Here, I’ll explain why I think Disney may have paid around $10 million to the parents of the boy killed by the alligator.
This $10 million figure is my estimation. I haven’t seen any document that says that millions, or any amount, was paid to the parents for their pain and suffering. It’s possible that they did not settle.
On the other hand, the parents (Matthew and Melissa Graves) opened up a probate estate for “L T G”, who I assume is Lane Thomas Graves (their son):
A probate estate is usually only opened up for a child if the parents make (or settle) a wrongful death claim for the child’s death.
That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney paid $10 million to the parents. The full value of a wrongful case is much larger than most personal injury settlements. I will explain why in detail in a moment.
Also, court records mention that a minor with the [boy’s] sister’s initials received over $50,000 as a settlement not too long after the incident:
The parents asked the court to approve this proposed settlement. The document does NOT say that Disney paid it. I’ll explain later.
I’ll discuss who paid the sister’s settlement in detail.
But, first I want to say I few things.
This is a tragic accident. I read the Florida Wildlife’s Case Summary on this fatal alligator attack. It graphically describes the attack. It gave me chills down my spine. I can’t imagine the grief that the parents felt having their only boy (at the time) killed by the alligator.
How is the Value of Wrongful Death Claim Calculated?
Again, this is a very hard incident to talk about.
However, my job as a Florida wrongful death lawyer is to put a value on cases. After this tragic accident, I researched the law involving whether someone has a case if they are killed by an alligator.
I’ve also written extensively about Walt Disney World accident cases (including verdicts). And yes, if you’re unsure, Disney has lost cases at trial.
Thus, I am going to give my opinion on the likely settlement amount.
Shortly after Lane Graves was killed, I made a video which gave my thoughts on the possible settlement amount. That video is below.
Since making that video, I dug into the Lane Graves’ probate court file to see what public information I could find that may have discussed a settlement. I also read the court records that referenced his sisters’ settlement.
Thus, there is additional information in this article that isn’t in the video. Likewise, the video covers some points that aren’t in this article.
After the incident, Disney created a lighthouse sculpture to honor Lane.
At least one online news site praised the parents for not suing Disney. However, it’s my opinion that they didn’t sue because Disney paid them to settle.
(I’m surprised that no journalists dug deep enough to find possible evidence of a settlement related to the boy’s death.)
What proof is there that there may have been a settlement?
Orange County probate records show that on July 26, 2016, a probate estate was set up for an estate of a decedent “LTG”.
A “decedent” is someone who dies.
Do Court Records Mention a Settlement for Lane Graves?
The probate estate does not mention a settlement. Nor does it mention Disney.
However, the death certificate in the court file states the boy’s full name as “Lane Thomas Graves”. I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to show the death certificate.
Also, the names of his parents in the court file are the same as Lane Graves’ parents’ names.
Here is a screenshot of the court file:
Moreover, as you can see below, a document from the probate court record shows that the decedent, L.T.G. was a minor, resided in Nebraska, and died on June 14, 2016.
Why do I think that it’s likely that there was a settlement between the parents and Disney?
I can’t think of any reason that the parents’ would’ve opened up an estate other than a settlement with Disney. A probate estate is set up when the person who dies has assets to give to his beneficiaries.
In Florida, you cannot settle a wrongful death claim without setting up a probate estate. If someone dies without assets or money, there is no reason to set up an estate.
Why Was There Likely a Quick Settlement?
This wrongful death claim is one of the few wrongful death cases that likely settled quickly for the actual claim’s value.
Many factors affect the time that it takes to settle a personal injury claim. Here, we’ll focus on how long it takes to settle a wrongful death claim.
In most wrongful death cases, the party who the claim is against often has limited insurance. Take, for example, injury claims against people insured with GEICO, Progressive, State Farm or USAA. People insured with those companies often only have $10,000 or so in insurance.
And $10,000 is a fraction of what Florida juries usually award for a parent’s pain and suffering for a minor’s death. In fact some of the largest pain and suffering awards are for the death of a minor child.
So the parents of the child usually have to accept a settlement at a fraction of the claim’s value.
Additionally, in many wrongful death cases, liability is contested. With disputed liability, the premises owner will discount the full value of the case.
However, here, Disney seemed to want this incident out of the news. It’s not everyday that the media reports that Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger calls a child’s family and publicly offers condolences. Additionally, George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World, flew back to Florida from Shanghai, China.
Most Companies Don’t Care About Bad Publicity in Wrongful Death Claims
In most wrongful death cases, bad publicity isn’t a huge issue.
Take, for example, the FIU bridge collapse lawsuit. MCM, the company who built the bridge, initially defended the case. It’s insurance companies likely made that decision. (Given the size of the claims against it, and I assume the effect on the collapse on its reputation, it filed for bankruptcy.) Before the bridge accident, very few people knew the names of the companies who built the bridge.
On the other hand, everyone knows about Disney World. Disney World uses taglines like “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” Disney doesn’t want people to perceive it as being anything but magical. They want their guests to feel safe.
Having a child killed by an alligator at a Disney hotel is not magical. It’s a nightmare come true.
As I said above, my educated guess is that Disney paid about $10 million to settle the parents’ wrongful death claim for the death of their child.
I’ll give a detailed breakdown of how I came up with a possible $10 million settlement amount. But, first, I’ll discuss what no one has mentioned, which is the sister’s settlement.
Did Disney Pay Over $50K to settle with Lane Graves’ sister?
Court records show that Lane Graves’s sister had a proposed total settlement of over $50,000.
Court records say that a guardianship was set up for the sole purpose of obtaining court approval and authority to enter into a settlement agreement [on behalf of the boy’s sister] with an entity doing business in Orange County, Florida. (“Entity” means a business. Disney is a business.)
Here is another court document:
I want to be clear. The court record doesn’t say that the settlement was with Disney. And nowhere in the probate estate is Disney, or even an entity doing business in Orange County, mentioned.
However, let’s try to read between the lines. Disney is an entity doing business in Orange County, Florida. And the only purpose for setting up a guardianship was for obtaining court approval is of the settlement for the sister’s claim.
If this sisters’ settlement wasn’t with Disney, who was it with?
The Omaha Herald reported that the boys’ sister, Emma, was in a playpen 20 to 30 yards from the shoreline. Thus, she was at the scene of the horrific incident.
If the sister was at the scene of an incident, and suffered an impact, she would have a claim for her emotional distress.
However, she didn’t suffer an physical impact. In other words, the alligator didn’t touch her.
Thus, I don’t believe that she had a claim for emotional distress. Perhaps Disney may have offered a settlement as a gesture of good will.
Did Disney Settle With the Boy’s Dad for His Emotional Distress Because the Alligator Touched Him?
Unlike the sister, the alligator made contact with Lane Grave’s father. I learned this after reading the Florida Wildlife’s Case Summary that I mentioned earlier. Thus, the father has a claim for emotional distress from witnessing the horrific incident.
My educated guess is that Disney may have paid $4.5 million or so to settle the father’s claim for emotional distress.
How do I arrive at this amount?
Because a jury recently awarded a boy $4.5 million for emotional distress from being in his mom’s car when she was killed. (This was in addition to his pain and suffering claim for his mom’s death.) The trial court refused to reduce that verdict. And that case didn’t have the publicity issues that Disney wanted to avoid in the alligator incident.
Let’s now estimate the settlement of the parents’ claims for mental pain and suffering for the wrongful death of their child. For Mr. Graves, this claim is in addition to his emotional distress claim for witnessing the attack.
If Disney Is Negligent, Parents Can Get Money for Pain and Suffering
In Florida, the parents of a minor child are entitled to recover compensation for their mental pain and suffering from the death of their minor child caused by another’s negligence.
If the parents would’ve sued Disney, there is a chance that a Florida court would’ve ruled that Disney is not liable based on no duty to warn of the alligator in the lagoon.
You may ask:
If they would’ve sued, and a judge could’ve dismissed the case, why would Disney pay around $10 Million to settle? How did I arrive at this amount?
Let’s look at how I would value this case if it weren’t a public relations (“PR”) nightmare for Disney. I say that it was PR nightmare after looking at many online comments to articles and videos.
How Do You Calculate The Case Value if No PR Nightmare?
If the parents can prove that Disney’s negligence caused the death of their beautiful 2-year-old boy, then Disney has to pay each parent for their pain and suffering. However, there are other factors that affect how much they might get.
First, you need to calculate the full settlement value of the case.
First Step – Calculate Full Value of Case (if No Bad Publicity)
The first step is to calculate the full value of each of the parent’s pain and suffering if this incident wasn’t getting Disney bad publicity. Let’s say that the value of pain and suffering for each parent is $3 million.
This $3 Million figure is what I’ve seen after looking at many Florida jury verdicts for the death of a minor child.
This means that the total value of the parents’ pain and suffering is $6 million ($3 Million x 2).
If the parents sue, and a jury verdict is reached, Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal would handle an appeal, if any. The 5th district has previously approved a $5 million dollar pain and suffering award to a mother whose daughter died in a car accident.
What is the Full Value Since Disney Has PR Issues?
This accident was on the front page of every online news source that I saw. Now, it’s not being talked about much in the news. Disney World doesn’t want it back in the news.
If the boy’s parents sue, the lawsuit would put this tragic incident back on the front page of all the major news publishers.
Factoring in the PR issues, I think that Disney would be willing to pay $5 million to each parent, which is on the upper end of what the appeals court (that handles Disney negligence cases) would likely approve if a jury awarded it.
So this brings the full value to $10 million.
2nd Step – Reduce for Chance of Disney Getting Case Dismissed or No Negligence
We then reduce the full value of the case by the percentage chance that the case gets dismissed, or a jury says that Disney isn’t liable. I’d put that chance at 50% or so because liability is an issue in this case.
So, in a typical case, you would take the $6 Million dollar full value and reduce it by 50%. This would bring the settlement down to $3 Million dollars in total (for both parents).
But since this case has received worldwide media attention, I think Disney would, when offering to settle, be willing to disregard the percent chance that a court dismisses the case, or a jury sides with Disney.
3rd Step – Reduce by Lane Grave’s Percentage of Fault (if any)
We then reduce the value of the case for the parents’ percentage of fault, if any, for not properly supervising their child. I am not saying that parent’s did not supervise the boy.
However, I think that an adjuster would place 50% fault on the parents for allowing their child to step into the lagoon.
In a case that didn’t get international attention, this would take the $3 Million that I mentioned above and cut it in half. So, an insurance company would likely value the case at $1.5 Million.
This would be $750,000 to each parent.
But, this isn’t a typical case. It has already made international news, for several days. Thus, I think Disney would also, when trying to settle, be willing to disregard the percent chance that a jury find the parents at fault.
Earlier I said that the high end of the pain and suffering value range (per parent) was $5 Million. For both parents combined it would be $10 Million.
I think Disney offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 Million dollars to settle. Again, this is because I think they’ll be willing to not factor in their defenses as they would normally do in any other case.
You Won’t Hear About the Actual Settlement Amount
We likely will never hear the settlement amount. This is because many huge corporations require confidentiality to be a term of the settlement.
Valued at around $159 Billion, Disney is a massive company. In fact, I’ve never even seen one Disney settlement amount online. And like I said earlier, I’ve researched Disney accident claims in-depth.
Thus, I assume that Disney required confidentiality for the settlement related to the Lane Graves killed by the alligator. Especially with the media frenzy that resulted from this incident.
Disney seems to like to keep settlements hush-hush.
On the other hand, most wrongful death settlements (not involving Disney) are not confidential. Your run of the mill motorcycle accident settlement or car accident settlement isn’t confidential. Even if they are wrongful death settlements. The same is true for a settlement where a pedestrian is hit by a car.
Therefore, I’ve written about many settlements for someone whose spouse was killed in an accident.
On September 4, 2016, family and friends of Lane Graves carried blue balloons onto a football field. They stood in formation of a heart on what would have been Lane’s third birthday.
Once again, this is a very sad story. My heart goes out to the Graves’ family.
I want to end this article on a positive note. Here it is:
About two years after this incident, the Graves announced the birth of their son. I couldn’t think of a family who is more deserving to celebrate the birth of a newborn.
Do you think that Disney paid to settle any claims for Lane Graves’ tragic death? If so, how much do you think that Disney may paid to settle?
Leave your comments below.
This article was originally published in 2016. I have edited it since then.