- Get Bitten by a wild Alligator in Florida – is Disney Liable? You Decid

by Armando Edmiston on Dec. 06, 2016

Accident & Injury Animal Bite Accident & Injury 

Summary: The unfortunate events of June 16, 2016 where a 2 year old child was attacked by a 4 to 7 foot alligator at Disney world has reminded me to blog about the duties and responsibilities Disney World, along with all the other attraction parks, owes to the public.

In this blog I want to discuss the potential liability Disney World faces if a wrongful death lawsuit would be brought against them by the family from Nebraska of the poor child who was attacked by the alligator. I want to discuss the general rule in Florida in regards to wild animals, the requirements which the family must meet to bring a successful wrongful death suit against Disney world and any potential defensed Disney may raise, for the unfortunate incident.

 

In Florida the general rule is that an owner or keeper of a wild animal is strictly liable to anyone injured by the animal regardless of whether the defendant was at fault or negligent.  Scorza v. Martinez, 683 So. 2d 1115 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996).  There are 3 basic and essential elements that must be established under this rule of strict liability: 1) the defendant (in this case Disney world) must be the owner or keeper of the animal; 2) the animal must be a wild animal; and 3) the animal must cause the injury. The Florida Courts have not provided a bright line definition of “owner” usually it is a question of fact to be determined by the particular circumstances of each case.

 

However, the Courts have defined the term “keeper” as someone who controls or has the right to control the thing which is allegedly kept.  Sharp v. Levine, 528 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988).  On the other hand, land owners whose property is unimproved and uninhabited and provides a natural habitat for animals which is unknown to the property owner has no responsibility to anticipate the presence of or guard guest against harm from these unknown natural and wild animals unless he has reduced the animals to possession, harbors them, or has introduced onto the property animals which are not indigenous to the area.  Wamser v. St Pete, 339 So. 2d 244 (Fla. 2d DCA 1976). Therefore, a property owner may not be considered the owner/keeper of a wild animal if the animal is living in its natural habitat and is free from the possession or control of the owner.  

 

            The next element is that the animal must be wild. A wild animal legally speaking is best defined by what it is not. The Restatement of Torts §506(1) defines a wild animal as an “animal that is not by custom devoted to the service of mankind at the time and place in which it is kept.” Again the Florida Courts have not formulated their own definition so whether an animal is wild or not is determined on a case by case basis. The Courts have found the term Animals to included reptiles, birds, fish, insects, monkeys, elephants, sharks, snakes, and fighting cocks. 

 

            The term wild generally involved reference to the habitat of the animal and its dangerous propensities. By contrast, domestic animals are presumed not to be vicious or dangerous and thus are not considered to be wild animals.

 

            Finally the animal must cause the injuries to the plaintiff. Now that I have explained to you the law in Florida you decide should Disney be held responsible for the alligator attack.

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