Animal Attack Raises Landowner Liability Questions

A disturbing incident at a Walt Disney World beach highlights the danger that victims may experience this summer.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings says his office will not press charges against Melissa and Will Graves, of Omaha, Neb., after a giant alligator snatched their 2-year-old son off a beach that was marked “No Swimming.” However, the park owners did not post any warning signs about alligators, and a Walt Disney World representative said that the park would “thoroughly review” the situation. Sheriff Demings said that both his agency and the state wildlife department would look into the matter as well.

Divers found Lane Graves’ lifeless body about 16 hours after his parents reported the initial incident.

Landowner Liability

To determine the legal duty in these matters, which is the first element in a negligence case, most courts use the common-law classification approach that divides victims into three categories:

  • Trespasser: The stories about burglars who successfully sue property owners for damages have some grain of truth, because owners do have a duty to refrain from intentional harm in these cases. But for the most part, these stories are greatly exaggerated. The duty is higher in some cases, depending on the trespasser’s age or other legal status.
  • Licensee: If a non-property owner invites guests to a hotel room or residence, the owner still has a duty to warn these individuals about latent defects, such as loos stair rails or abandoned wells.
  • Invitee: Most people are on the land because of the owner’s express or implied invitation. This label applies to both financial invitees, like shoppers and tenants, and non-financial invitees, like social guests. In these situations, the owner has a duty to keep the premises reasonably safe.

A few courts have abandoned the common-law classification system in favor of a blanket duty of care that applies to all owners in all situations.

All theme park guests at Six Flags New Orleans, Splash Kingdom, and other destinations in the state are invitees, because they pay money for the right to be on the land. If these visitors are injured because of a property defect, like a wet spot on a floor that causes a slip-and-fall or a darkly-lit parking lot that creates a place for muggers to lie in wait for their victims, the victims must prove that the owner either knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it.

Landowners must keep their guests safe. For a free consultation with an experienced Lake Charles personal injury attorney, contact Hoffoss Devall. Home and hospital appointments are available.