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.”

Premises liability claims come from numerous sources

When many Florida residents think about premises liability, they think about people slipping and falling in grocery stores. However, a property owner could be held liable for injuries suffered under many other circumstances by people who were invited onto the property. Premises liability claims may be filed against private property owners as well as commercial property owners.

The element that binds every premises liability claim is that a danger existed that the property owner knew or should have known about and should have corrected — or should have at least warned invitees (people allowed to be on the property) of the hazard. Dangerous conditions include everything from a wet floor and inadequate lighting to an aggressive dog and security concerns. Property owners are required to keep the property maintained and repaired. They should also periodically inspect the property to be sure it is free of hazards.

In many cases, the property owner’s insurance company will be quick to try to get you to settle your claim. The questions asked by the company’s representatives are often designed to find a way to limit its liability. Ordinarily, any offer made to you would be for much less than you may receive if you pursue the matter with an attorney.

If you suffered serious injury or lost a loved one on someone else’s property, you may be able to file a premises liability claim. It should be noted that evidence can disappear quickly, so contacting an attorney as soon as possible is essential. If an investigation reveals that a property owner and/or others are responsible for the property’s condition, a claim may be filed. Any monetary judgment entered after negligence is established to a Florida court’s satisfaction may be used to defray the financial losses associated with the accident.

Property owners knew or should have known of faulty railing

Maintenance and repair of the common areas of a Florida apartment complex are the responsibility of the owners of the property. Regular inspections are often needed in order to identify problem areas, warn residents and their guests of the issue and perform repairs. If property owners knew or should have known about a hazard and failed to do anything about it, someone could be seriously hurt or killed.

For example, three tenants of an apartment complex in another state were standing on a walkway on the second floor, which is considered a common area. One of the three men leaned on the railing and it broke. He fell to the concrete, about a 12-foot drop.

He was apparently unconscious for some time, and when he regained consciousness, he had no feeling in his legs. Emergency personnel arrived and rushed him to a hospital in the Beaumont, Texas area. The incident occurred in Nov. 2013.

The victim’s current condition is not known. With regard to his premises liability lawsuit, he seeks a judgment for monetary damages for loss of income, disfigurement and other financial losses. He alleges that the apartment complex failed to properly maintain the property, to warn residents of the hazard or to fix the problem.

More importantly, however, it is alleged that the property owners knew or should have known that the railing was not safe and in need of repair. As would be the case here in Florida, the man will be required to successfully establish this fact to the court before any award of damages will be considered. Any monetary judgment awarded could help the man with any current or future medical needs he may have.

Source: setexasrecord.com, “Ricky Johnson sues apartment complex, alleging negligence after railing gives way“, Emily Moore, Aug. 17, 2015

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