Last week, 2-year old Lane Graves of Nebraska lost his life in a deadly alligator attack at Disney. Reports state that an alligator snatched the boy from the shores of the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa where he and his family were vacationing.
While at the Disney Resort, the young boy had been wading close to the shore the lagoon. The boy’s father desperately attempted to free his child from the alligator while his mother tried to get help from the lifeguard. Tragically, the alligator was too strong and fast for any rescue efforts. The next morning officials reported that they had recovered the body of the boy. The official cause of death is drowning.
Following the tragic death, Disney released a public statement stating that the company “will thoroughly review the situation for the future.”
The question, of course, running through everyone’s mind this past week: Could Disney be liable for wrongful death? Did they have a legal duty to warn their guests of potential alligator attacks?
Under Florida law, Disney has an obligation to use reasonable means to keep visitors safe. According to multiple reports, the well-tended beach of the Lagoon had a “No swimming” sign posted nearby. However, there was no “No wading” signs or warnings posted notifying guests of the presence of nearby alligators and other wildlife.
Florida is well known for its large alligator population, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission there are at least 1.3 million throughout the state. The Commission regularly warns visitors of the dangers of wild alligators and works closely with Disney to remove “nuisance alligators” or gators at least four feet in length. Since 1973, there have been reports of 23 deaths from an alligator attack.
Alligators often drag their prey under water until it dies then leave it submerged to come back to it at a later time. Experts in the area have stated that the situation was in effect a trifecta: a small boy easily mistaken as prey close to a body of water, at around 9 p.m. at night, just after mating season- both of which are prime feeding time for alligators.
Up until last week, Disney’s last report of an alligator attack on their premises was in 1986 when a young boy was bitten on the legs by a gator. He survived the attack.
Local officials have defended Disney. Most notably, the Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who stated that generally when an alligator attacks, it “was a mistake”.
Since the attack, 6 alligators have been found on Disney premises and euthanized. It is not known whether the gator responsible for the attack was any of those six- investigations are still underway.
In the wake of the death of the boy, Disney spokeswomen Jacquee Wahler stated that the resort had closed all of their beaches while they conduct a “swift and thorough review of all [their] processes and protocols”. Which she further stated would include “the number, placement and wording of [their] signage and warnings.”