Wild Animals and Lawsuits: Insight On The Legal Process

It was headline news and yet, it didn’t seem to stop people from forming their own opinions and casting both sides as bad on social media. A little boy was dragged off by an alligator and the media frenzy that followed made it sometimes tough to know who or what was at fault.

What we do know is that around 9pm on a Thursday evening a 2-year old boy was snatched by an alligator while wading in the shallows of the resort’s lake. The father of the boy sustained lacerations on his hand while attempting to rescue his son from the clutches of the watery beast. Even a nearby lifeguard was called to offer assistance. Unfortunately, neither the father nor the lifeguard were able to rescue the boy.

The tragedy has been played out over and over on the major news stations each one weighing in on the legal ramifications of the case.

Lawyers for the Plaintiffs (the boy’s parents) might argue that because the resort had full time staff whose main job was observing the waters for alligators that’s proof that the resort knew about these dangerous creators and is responsible for them.

Now the Defendant’s (the resort) Lawyers might argue that since alligators are a natural part of the ecosystem where the resort is located that “Ferae Naturae” could be argued. That means that wild animals are unpredictable and uncontrollable.

In the particular state that this accident happened arguably the law does not require a landowner to anticipate the presence of or guard an invitee against harm from wild animals. Now however if the wild animals were confined to private control areas they could arguably be considered part of the establishment and this could indeed heightened the landowner’s (the resort) exposure to  liability for the actions of the animals.

It could also be argued that the courts in the state where the incident occurred have long held there is no liability when a child drowns in a natural or artificial body of water … unless there is dangerous condition constituting a trap. The caveat being does an alligator constitute an unusual danger or trap?

Other issues include: Were there warning signs? Did the plaintiffs heed the warnings that were displayed on the signs?

In this case it could be argued that the property owner (the resort) owes two duties to the invitees (the boy and his parents): (1) the duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the property in a reasonably safe condition, and (2) the duty to warn of latent or concealed dangers (dangerous wild animals) which should be known to the owner and are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care.

So why do I share this information?

I share it to give you an insight on the legal process and how each side’s legal team may present their cases in this situation. I share it to show you that the process isn’t always cut and dry and in the case of a high profile resort the news reporters and social media can impact people’s perception of the case.

We don’t have alligators in Indiana at least not in the wild. But we do have resorts and accidents do happen. If you or a loved one has been injured while as a guest at an Indiana resort (or a hotel or motel or any lodging establishment) pick up the phone and call the Law Offices of David W Holub at (219)736-9700 today.

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