How often do serious and fatal injuries happen at large resorts? When a vacationer does get hurt, can he or she hold the hotel or the resort responsible? These types of claims fall under an area of personal injury law known as premises liability. In short, premises liability law holds that property owners—including resort and hotel owners—have a duty to keep a property free of hazards and to warn guests about serious dangers on the property. Why is this an important topic to discuss now?
Given that it is summertime, many families are planning vacations to resorts and hotels across the country. But more salient, perhaps, is the recent death of a toddler at the Walt Disney Resort, according to a report in The Washington Post. The child’s death may have happened in Florida, but it should alert parents in California and across the country to potential hidden dangers on family vacations and to the consequences of hotel negligence.
Child Killed by Alligator at Disney Property
As the article explains, a 2-year-old boy was wading near the edge of a man-made lake at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa property when he was attacked and killed by an alligator. At the time of the animal attack near the hotel, Disney had not placed any signs warning guests about alligators. There was a sign that told guests not to go swimming in the lagoon, yet Disney has reacted to the child’s death by installing signs about alligators and snakes throughout the resort area.
As the Washington Post article clarifies, “the absence of signage warning of the threat of alligators at the beachfront” could result in Disney being held liable for the child’s fatal injuries. Although the threat of alligators in nearly any body of water in Florida is well-known to residents and often is emphasized to visitors, experts believe that Disney had a duty to warn its guests about the potential for an alligator attack near the man-made lake area. While “most Floridians know that alligators live in nearly every freshwater body in the state . . . it would be reasonable to argue that vacationers coming from somewhere like Nebraska wouldn’t share the same knowledge.”
Disney has responded by installing warning signs across the hotel property and throughout the resort area. According to Jacquee Wahler, a spokesperson for Disney, “we are installing signage and temporary barriers at our resort beach locations and are working on permanent, long-term solutions at our beaches.” Wahler underscores that Disney plans to “continue to evaluate processes and procedures for our entire property.” What do the new signs say?
DANGER! ALLIGATORS AND SNAKES IN AREA. STAY AWAY FROM THE WATER. DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE.
Determining Liability in an Animal Attack at a Hotel
Did Disney have a duty to warn its hotel guests about the possibility of an alligator attack in the event that those guests ventured near the man-made lake? As the California jury instructions for a premises liability claim make clear, a hotel owner may be liable if she or he was negligent in exercising a basic duty of care. What does the basic duty of care require? As the jury instructions explain, “a person who owns/leases/occupies/controls a property is negligent if he or she fails to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition.” To keep a property in reasonably safe condition, the law requires that person to “use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.”
If the Disney attack had occurred in California, the toddler’s family might be able to make a convincing argument that, even if Disney did not specifically know about an alligator in the lagoon, it should have given hotel guests adequate warning about the possibility of an animal attack given the prevalence of alligators in Florida’s freshwater areas.
If you or someone you love recently sustained injuries at a hotel or at a resort, you may be able to file a premises liability lawsuit. An experienced hotel injury attorney can discuss your options with you. Contact the Walton Law Firm today for more information.
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