On Tuesday night, a two-year old boy was snatched by an alligator while playing in the water along the shoreline of a lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort. After a lengthy search, the boy’s body was found about six feet beneath the surface of the lagoon. An autopsy is being performed, although Orange County police say that it is likely the boy drowned. Although the resort displayed ‘no swimming’ signs near the lagoon, many are criticizing resort management for not giving sufficient warning regarding the threat of alligator attacks in shallow water.
According to Kaufman Law attorney Michael Kaufman, if this case is pursued, it will turn on a few key questions of fact. The most important of which being who knew about alligators in the lagoon, and when.
Says Kaufman, “In a Georgia case with very similar facts, the Supreme Court found that the case should have been dismissed because the victim was shown to have had equal knowledge to that of the commercial property owner about the threat of alligators within the community.” Landings Ass’n v. Williams, 291 Ga. 397, 728 S. E.2d 577 (2012).
An Orlando attorney who specializes in negligence cases agrees that there are several questions that need to be answered to determine whether Disney is liable: “What did Disney know about the presence of alligators and when did they know it? What protections were in place for these visitors? If Disney knew and did not take steps to warn visitors, they could be liable.”
A similar incident occurred over thirty years ago at Disney World. In 1986, an eight-year-old boy was bitten at the Fort Wilderness Campground. The boy was playing with family members near a lake when a seven-foot gator lunged at him. The boy survived, however, like many other personal injury victims he was troubled for years by the trauma of the attack. As of 2013, an estimated 1.3 to 2 million gators live across Florida. Despite the number, alligator attacks are generally an extremely rare occurrence. According to Florida FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley, “The Florida FWC works closely with Disney to remove any alligators that pose a threat to people, pets, or property.” It is unknown whether the family has yet pursued legal action against the theme park.
“Everyone here at the Walt Disney World resort is devastated by this tragic accident,” a Disney official told reporters Wednesday. “Our thoughts are with the family. We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement.”