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Disney Said to Be Strictly Liable for Toddler's Death at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Prior knowledge of the presence of alligators, will be key in the litigation


June 20, 2016

Turns out, the Grand Floridian Resort's Seven Seas Lagoon was infested with alligators

Disney, Inc. could face a stiff legal fight following the alligator attack at its resort in Orlando last Tuesday. Two year old Lane Grey from Elkhorn, Nevada, was drowned by the gator. His body was found the next day

"Disney is strictly liable for creating a hazard (a pool of dark water at a family resort. They knew or should have known about the danger of alligators inhabiting such a pool, in South Florida. Historically, the area was a swamp. Disney World should never have been built in the middle of an alligator infested swamp.

The Graves family could, and probably will, file a lawsuit in Florida against the theme parks corporation, questioning Disney policies about wildlife handling at the resort. That alligators fill the waters of Florida is common knowledge. And Disney's prior knowledge about the issue will be a key factor.

"Melissa and I continue to deal with the loss of our beloved boy, Lane, and are overwhelmed with the support and love we have received from family and friends in our community as well as from around the country," the Graves family said in a statement released through a spokesperson, Sara Brady of Sara Brady Public Relations. "We understand the public's interest, but as we move forward this weekend, we ask for and appreciate the privacy we need to lay our son to rest. Neither Melissa, myself or anyone from our family will be speaking publicly; we simply cannot at this time."

"No-swimming" signs are posted on the lagoon's beach. But if there's a legal case, it could turn on Disney's prior knowledge about the potential dangers of wild animals at the resort.

"There is a duty to warn guests of impending dangers. I've read that there were no signs warning of alligators at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort," said Scott Schutzman, a Plaintiff's attorney in Orange County.

Disney's case could even be argued under a higher legal standard, gross negligence, Branson says. "It appears to me that it's heedless - and actual disregard - of the safety and welfare of this child and family to merely have a sign up that says 'no swim'," Branson says.

"We are installing signage and temporary barriers at our resort beach locations and are working on permanent, long-term solutions at our beaches," Disney said in a statement. "We continue to evaluate processes and procedures for our entire property, and, as part of this, we are reinforcing training with our cast for reporting sightings and interactions with wildlife and are expanding our communication to guests on this topic."

Citing "an insider," TheWrap, a media industry publication, reported Wednesday that Disney's Polynesian Village Resort was aware of an ongoing problem of guests feeding alligators and had ignored staff requests to put protective fences in place. The Polynesian Village Resort is adjacent to the Grand Floridian and a short walk along the Seven Seas Lagoon, where the alligator attacked the boy.

The Grand Floridian is Disney's starship resort in Orlando and guests are often invited to the beach to watch movies and fireworks. Disney may have been concerned about scaring guests with overly explicit signs about animals, Branson says. "Think about the danger of saying this pond contains wild animals that can eat you or your children," he says. "But can you physically fix the problem? If you can't swim there, why put a beach there? The sign says one thing, but the appearance says another."

David Shiner, an attorney and managing partner Shiner Law Group in the Miami area, says the state's law doesn't require an owner of a land to anticipate the presence of harm from wild animals unless the owner either owns the wild animal or introduced it. "They didn't own the alligator," he said. "But if they know people are going into these areas, Disney has a duty to warn them if they knew of the presence of alligators."

Two year old lane graves died Tuesday when an alligator suddenly attacked him at the edge of a wading pond.

The issue of the presence of "indigenous animals" distinguishes Disney's case from the Cincinnati Zoo, where a 3-year-old boy fell into a gorilla exhibit. A 450-pound gorilla dragged the boy through a shallow moat before it was shot and killed. The boy survived with minor physical injuries.

The zoo owned the gorilla, and "there was a miscalculation on how to protect animals and customers from each other," Branson says. "And if you go to a zoo, parents are aware of dangers."

That Disney's resorts are populated by out-of-staters who are unfamiliar with alligators should also have been considered in warnings and signage, Shiner says. "In Florida, we know not to jump in," he says.

Disney could look to settle the case, if brought, to avoid negative publicity. But the company, particularly in Florida, is "notorious for strongly defending all cases brought against them," Shiner says. Family spokesperson Brady said Sunday that she couldn't comment on whether the company had hired legal counsel related to the incident.


Reader Comments

Irvinegirl writes:

I hope the family sues and wins big against Disney. It was no oversight in not having alligator warning signs. The company didn't want them. Too scary looking. When you create a sandy beach and have nighttime family events (during prime alligator feeding times), and you're dealing mostly with tourists, it's reasonable for Disney to have anticipated this type of serious problem. Disney was clearly negligent. No swimming doesn't mean don't even get your toes in the water.


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