As new details emerge in the death of a Nebraska toddler killed by an alligator at a Florida resort, the question still remains, who, if anyone, is liable when animals in the wild attack humans.
The family had gone to the beach next to the man-made lagoon at about 8:30 p.m. June 14 for a movie night organized by Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. The 2-year-old boy was standing in ankle-deep water, filling a pail to make sand castles on a beach when an alligator emerged from the lagoon, bit the boy's head and dragged him into the water. The boy's father, who was standing nearby, rushed to his son and stuck his hands in the alligator's mouth, trying to free his son.
According to an investigative report released this month, two guests said they warned Disney employees there was an alligator near the beach where the boy's family and other guests had gathered to watch a movie. However, the report did not determine whether the employees acted on the information.
An hour before the attack, a guest spotted an alligator from the porch of his room and pointed it out to a Disney employee. Just before the attack, the guest saw children in the ankle-deep water and was going out the door to warn them when he heard the mother screaming.
Another guest on the lagoon beach with her daughter told a Disney employee in charge of the movie night that she saw an alligator about 5 feet from shore at around 8:15 p.m. The movie organizer then told another staff member.
The attack occurred at dusk, which is prime hunting time for alligators, according to wildlife officials. Although there were “no swimming” signs posted at the lagoon, the resort did not erect signs warning of the dangers of alligators (and snakes) until after the attack.
A member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it is the responsibility of private property owners to notify them about nuisance wildlife.
The commission's report concluded that the attack was predatory even though alligators rarely attack humans or see them as food. However, the alligator may have lost its fear of humans because it lived near large numbers of people.
Questions to ask pending potential litigation include:
- How common are alligators in the lagoon where the attack happened?
- Did the resort do enough to mitigate the problem or warn tourists about potential dangers?
- Did employees know there were alligators in the lagoon? Or should they reasonably have known? In either case, did they have an obligation to warn guests?
- Seeing animals in the wild is often part of a “tourist” experience, so when tourists are injured or killed at these resorts, who is liable?
- Ultimately, did the resort take reasonable care to prevent the tragedy from happening?
In general, according to one CNN legal analyst, when a person is injured on someone else's property, liability depends on upon whether the injured party was invited onto the property.
A public invitee is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.
If you believe you have been injured or a loved one has died due to a wrongful act, defective device or negligence and deserves compensation, call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.