58ºF

Could Disney alligator attack have been prevented?

Lawyer who won lawsuit in similar case says 'No Swimming' signs not enough

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A tragic alligator attack in a Disney resort lagoon that left a 2-year-old boy dead had many people asking how the tragedy could have been prevented.

Lane Graves was visiting from Nebraska with his family when he was pulled into the Seven Seas Lagoon by a 4- to 7-foot alligator while wading Tuesday night, police said.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that Disney routinely requests the removal of alligators from the property, but during the search for the boy, multiple gators were pulled from the lake.

The case is similar to one from the Jacksonville area that led to the city paying more than $22,000 to a man who was attacked by an alligator at Hanna Park in 1980.

The attorney from that trial said Thursday that signs warning of alligators should have been posted in both cases.

“Somebody dropped the ball along the way,” said Fred Abbott, president of Abbott Law Group.

Abbott said Lane's death is a tragedy that could have been avoided. He said Disney has a lot of liability in the case because the lake was one the park created. He said the posted “No Swimming” signs are not enough.

Abbott said that signs clearly warning of alligators should be posted along the lake.

“I think a property owner, if they have knowledge of a danger, first of all, this is a man-made lake. This alligator is not in his natural setting, which is a swamp or natural lake. This alligator came to something Disney made,” Abbott said.

He said the case he won in 1980 was very similar.

Bryan J. Schmidt, a former Navy carpenter from northern Arkansas, was swimming in a man-made lake at Hanna Park when he was bitten on the arm by a 10-foot gator, known as “Good Ole Sam.” The alligator let go and Schmidt survived, but Abbott said the city was held partly responsible because the danger was known and not communicated.

“One thing is for certain: Alligators do not mix with people,” Abbott said. “They work their way up the food chain. Alligators start out eating fish, then they work their way up to smaller mammals like raccoons and possums, then things like dogs. Then they go up to people.”

Good Ole Sam was shot and killed two days after Schmidt's attack.

Abbott said the need for signage warning of alligators is even greater when guests, particularly those from out of state, like at Disney, are invited to spend time near a lake.

“They’ve got those chairs there, and they don’t have warning signs about alligators,” Abbott said. “For you or I who are natural Floridians, we know about alligators. People who are from outside the south, it’s just something they have read about in a book.”

Abbott said the fact that multiple gators were pulled from the lake after the attack reflects even more liability for Disney, because it shows that it could have done a better job of managing the lake to keep guests safe.

Alligator Attacks in the United States | Graphiq