While more details have come out regarding the case, and the family has issued a statement regarding the loss of their son, many have wondered what kind of legal action Disney could be facing — and apparently it could be a pretty hefty price!
Matt Morgan, an Orlando attorney who has experience in litigating negligence cases against theme parks in Florida, says that the Graves family could file a wrongful death claim against Disney.
Morgan dished to PEOPLE:
“The Walt Disney Corporation has a duty to warn their hotel guests of any dangers that they either know about or should know about.”
The attorney went on to explain that the whole case will be determined by whether or not the resort knew about the dangerous animals living the the Seven Seas Lagoon saying:
“If Disney had knowledge that there were alligators in the lagoon and did not take steps to inform their guests of such dangers, then they could be liable.”
The really bad news for the company and resort is it sounds like they DEFINITELY knew seeing as how Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said that the resort often removes alligators FROM the lagoon! Wiley explained:
“They have a full-time staff observing these waters and they have essentially an open permit system where any time they see an alligator or a complaint is called in, it can be taken out.”
We don’t really see Disney getting out of this one!
Matt went on to reveal that this program could serve as evidence that the resort TOTALLY knew about the animals and that they didn’t properly warn the guests about the dangers of gators as they set up chairs and umbrellas on the beach of the lagoon. Tsk, tsk!
Even professor Alan Sykes from Stanford law school agreed that “no swimming signs” probably wouldn’t hold up as enough warning about alligators.
In regards to the signage, Walt Disney Resorts Vice President Jacquee Wahler said that the Grand Floridian resort was going to review their material, saying:
“All of our beaches are currently closed, and we are conducting a swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols. This includes the number, placement and wording of our signage and warnings.”
While some might claim that Florida is widely known for its gator infestation, Morgan is quick to point out that the Graves family is from Nebraska and may not have been aware of this, adding:
“This family from Nebraska comes to Disney and assumes that Disney has done everything in their power to protect them while they’re on their property. Never in their wildest nightmares could they have imagined that there was an alligator looming nearby which was large enough to carry their son away.”
Seeing as how the evidence looks pretty stacked against Disney, it’s not surprising to hear that Morgan believes the case will go to trial and that the company will offer the grieving family a pretty big settlement saying:
“I believe a jury could return a verdict of 8 figures and when coming to that conclusion, one only needs to ask oneself, ‘What if this were my child?'”
Though no amount of money can bring their son back, we hope this tragedy raises enough awareness so an incident like this doesn’t happen again.
Do YOU think Disney should offer the Graves family a settlement?
[Image via Orange County Sheriff’s Office.]