The recent death of a young boy at the hands of an alligator on the property of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is nothing short of a tragedy. I fully expect the grieving family to file a wrongful death suit against Disney for negligence in failing to adequately warn guests of its resort of the presence of alligators in this particular lagoon and for its failure to protect its guests from an unreasonable risk of harm.
The facts of this case are unquestionably bad from Disney’s perspective. A two year old little boy, wading into extremely shallow water, is attacked and ultimately taken by an alligator, while his parents desperately try to rescue their child. All of this occurred on a beach right outside the hotel where Disney had set up a lounging area with chairs, encouraging guests to use the waterfront property for recreation and relaxation. There were no posted warnings about the presence of alligators in this particular lagoon, and I have seen numerous accounts online of families indicating that their children had been playing in the exact same spot as the victim within hours of the attack.
Disney is going to have a hard time defending this claim. They actively created the beach environment where the attack took place and failed to warn their guests of the looming danger. They may try to say that the posted “No Swimming” signs were an appropriate warning, but there is a big difference between that and the fact that it had knowledge of alligators in this body of water. They may also try to defend on the basis that everyone knows alligators are everywhere in Florida- the problem with this is that the lagoon in question was a man-made environment inside the walls of a man-made park intended for the use of families and children, most of whom are not from Florida and are not familiar with the pervasive presence of such large predators in that area. I would argue that there shouldn’t be any alligators in the lagoon at all and that ordinary care requires Disney to constantly patrol the waters to search for the presence of such dangerous animals, especially with children around. Such an attack on a small child was entirely foreseeable, and I can’t see a jury finding that Disney met its standard of care here.
This tragic incident reminds me of a fairly similar case that happened here in Georgia several years ago in which an elderly woman was attacked and killed by an alligator while house-sitting in a neighborhood near Savannah while out on a walk one evening. The Georgia Supreme Court, in a fairly harsh ruling, ultimately found that the woman’s claims were barred as a matter of law because she assumed the risk of a gator attack by going on her walk that night. However, the facts of that case are distinguishable from the Disney case. In the Georgia case, the woman had been to the property before and knew that alligators were present all throughout the property. It was this knowledge, I believe, that tipped the case against her. I don’t think Disney will be able to avail itself of the same defense here based on the facts that have already been reported.
We will stay tuned for further developments in this case, but Disney’s potential exposure on this claim is enormous. I would be shocked if this case made it to trial.