After the alligator attack at Disney World, how much should Disney pay?

Shortly after sundown on June 14, an alligator dragged a 2-year-old boy into a man-made lagoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The boy’s body was found the next day, not far from the spot of the initial attack.

The boy’s family, according to The New York Times, has not indicated it plans to file a lawsuit. Nevertheless, legal experts across the country have begun to wonder to what extent Disney is liable for the child’s death. Many assume the company will pay millions of dollars to settle the matter as quickly – and as quietly – as possible.

Some, however, argue that Disney isn’t obligated to pay anything at all.

Is Disney really at fault?

There are an estimated 1.3 alligators in Florida. And a full third of Walt Disney World is a dedicated wildlife conservation area – a known home to many gators.

Disney’s legal culpability hinges on its exposure to wrongful death claims – that is, whether the boy’s death can be shown to have stemmed directly from Disney’s negligence. As reported in the Washington Post, a number of considerations come into play:

  • How common are alligators in the lagoon where the attack happened?
  • Was Disney aware of their presence?
  • Did Disney do enough to warn visitors about the alligators?
  • Did Disney do enough to keep the alligators at bay?

Multiple reports indicate that the company indeed knew about the alligators’ presence. Visitors had been feeding them, and Disney employees had asked them to stop. In fact, the very reason that feeding alligators is inadvisable is because it makes them more likely to approach and attack guests.

Why the case is not likely to go to court

Many lawyers have noted that because Disney only posted “No Swimming” signs near the lagoon, but no signs that explicitly warned of alligator attacks, the company might be found culpable. Others have brought up somewhat questionable legal doctrine stipulating that landowners cannot be held responsible for the acts of wild animals.

But most agree a settlement is likely to take place before the matter goes to court. As one attorney put it, “The bottom line is that they have a child whose body was snatched from the parents…I don’t think this is the kind of case where you want to be arguing the…subtle details of law.”

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