Walt Disney World is a popular vacation destination. The park, which opened its doors in 1971, is 40 square miles, has 62,000 employees, and has 52.5 million visitors every year. Walt Disney World has four amusement parks including the Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.
On a trip to the happiest place on earth, one family had an unexpected encounter that is now the center of an impending lawsuit. A family from Alabama was visiting the Animal Kingdom in October of 2014 when a snake fell out of a tree and bit a member of the family, a young boy. The family is alleging that that the snake escaped from the park to an area open to the general public. The grandmother of the family witnessed this event and the family is claiming that the incident immediately caused the grandmother to have breathing problems. The grandmother was admitted to the hospital the following day and died two days after the snake incident from cardiac arrest. The family is threatening a lawsuit against Disney over the boy’s injuries and for the wrongful death of the grandmother. According to Orlando’s News 6 , the family’s attorney, Matt Morgan, stated that: “It is our position that the event of the snake falling on this young boy and the grandmother witnessing this event was the proximate cause of her death.”
News 6 reported that Disney, who admits the boy was bitten at the park, stated that the snake was a “wild, non-venoumous snake, not part of the park’s collection.” Disney also stated that the boy was “treated by a park nurse, who put a Band-Aid on his finger, and the family went back into the park to enjoy the rest of their day.”
Though a lawsuit has yet to be filed, the family is will need to prove the park was negligent in order to recover damages. Negligence is a “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” A claim for negligence has four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty: Generally, everyone is under a duty to use reasonable care to prevent harm from coming to others. In addition, owner’s and occupier’s of land owe a duty of care to those who come onto their property. The level of care owed depends on how the visitor is classified.
- Breach: Breach is a failure to use reasonable care.
- Causation: The breach must be the cause of the plaintiff’s harm. There are two parts to causation, cause-in-fact and proximate cause. Cause-in-fact means the actions of the defendant were actually the cause of plaintiff’s harm. Proximate cause means a cause that is “legally sufficient to support liability.”
- Damages: In order to recover in negligence, the plaintiff must actually suffer some kind of harm, either personal injury or property damage.
The most trying element for the plaintiff to prove in this case will likely be causation. Even if the park was somehow negligent with regard to the snake bite, the family will have to show how that negligence was the both the actual and proximate cause of the grandmother’s subsequent cardiac arrest. If a lawsuit is filed, it will be interesting to see how a court rules on this causation issue.