The Walt Disney Company could face an intense legal battle following the death of 2-year-old Lane Graves, who was killed in an alligator attack at a resort in Orlando, Florida. Although they have not announced plans for a lawsuit, the toddler’s family could sue the company over their wildlife policies and the handling of dangerous animals at their resorts, according to some experts. As it is well-known that alligators remain a constant menace in Florida waters, legal experts are saying Disney’s oversight could be a key factor if a lawsuit is eventually filed.
In an interview with USA Today, trial attorney Dan Cytryn said Disney “had a duty to protect guests from the unreasonable risk of physical harm.” Although “no swimming” signs were posted at strategic points throughout the Disney resort’s beach, legal experts are saying the signs may implicate Disney because the company was aware of the potential dangers lurking in the water and did little to prevent a potential tragedy.
Frank Branson, another trial attorney, said, “If [Disney] had knowledge of the presence of alligators, they have to pass it onto customers. If they failed to do so, it’s considered negligence… it appears to me that it’s… an actual disregard… of the safety and welfare of this child and family to merely have a sign up that says ‘no swim.'”
In an official statement, Disney representatives said the company is working toward long-term safety measures at their beaches and resorts and will provide more training for staff to report alligator sightings and inform the public about interacting with wildlife. Unfortunately, it is simply too late for Lane Graves.
Citing a Disney resort insider, the Wrap reports Disney is aware that guests routinely feed alligators at several resorts, including the Polynesian Village Resort and the Seven Seas Lagoon, where Lane Graves was killed.
Fox News reports a video of a Disney worker trying to fend off an alligator at the Splash Mountain beach previously fuelled controversy about the company’s dangerous animal safety protocol. The video, which was shot in 2009, shows a guest throwing food to the reptile and the Disney worker trying to nudge the dangerous animal back into the water with a pool skimmer.
According to reports, Disney ignored requests from employees to install protective fences to prevent guests from interacting with the dangerous animals.
Branson said the warning signs at the resorts could indicate a deliberate attempt by Disney to downplay the risk.
He said, “[T]hink about the danger of saying this pond contains wild animals that can eat you or your children… if you can’t swim there, why put a beach there? The sign says one thing, but the appearance says another.”
David Shiner, attorney and managing partner for Shiner Law Group, explained Florida law does not require landowners to anticipate the harm wild animals may cause. He said it only becomes an issue if the landowner introduced the animal or owned it. Shiner confirmed Disney did not own the alligator. However, he believes they should have done more to warn guests about the dangers of alligators in the area.
— TheWrap (@TheWrap) June 18, 2016
Lane Graves was playing at a Disney resort with his family, splashing in the shallow waters near an apparent beach when an alligator lunged out of the water and clamped its razor-sharp teeth onto the 2-year-old boy. His father, Matt Graves, attempted to wrestle his toddler son from the reptile’s mouth. Unfortunately, it was simply too late.
Despite his father’s best efforts, the alligator slipped back into the water with Lane Graves securely clenched in its jaws. The devastating incident sparked an intense 16-hour manhunt.
— Houston News (@abc13houston) June 15, 2016
Rescue divers eventually found the toddler’s body six feet underwater, fewer than 15 feet from where he was dragged into the water. A medical examiner confirmed the toddler died of traumatic injuries and drowning.
The New York Times reports Sheriff Demings confirmed Disney had been doing business in the area for nearly 50 years and never experienced a deadly incident involving an alligator prior to Lane Graves tragic death.
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