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From Gorillas to Alligators

June 22, 2016

I want to preface this so please consider my concern as you read the rest. First, I feel deeply for the fear and pain the little Lane Grave who was attacked and died as the result of what appears to be an alligator attack at Orlando, Florida’s Disney World. I also feel sorrow for the parents who witnessed the event. I cannot imagine their trauma. The same extends to the mother and child in the recent zoo case and the gorilla.
Keeping with the above and as a lawyer and parent I must submit the following for consideration. Our society is becoming ever more litigious. Turning to the Court for redress has become a knee jerk response to unpleasant experiences. As Americans we have come to think that at any wrong a new law or court opinion will correct all grievance. As an attorney I well know that in a suit or legal action both sides pay a toll for accessing ‘the system’. The toll of monetary expense is self explanatory, but other expenses such as mental pain and anguish, fear, consternation and stress are costs few litigants consider in advance. I repeat, all parties suffer this type of emotional cost; even the quote ‘winning party’. But, beyond costs to the parties all society pays indirectly by the escalating of new law and/ or the ripple effect of court opinions which become precedent and thereby effect society.
The Media hype seems to be calling for a lawsuit against Disney World for breach of duty arising from either or both factors of nonfeasance and negligence. Perhaps Disney could have better warned the public by signs such as “Alligators Can Kill, Don’t Get Near or In The Water”. But should they say “so many feet” from the water, or “how close together” should signs have been posted? Consider that the simplest sign is the best “Don’t Get In The Water”. We could discuss all kinds of language and situations. Law long ago established that owners and operators of facilities who invite the public to come in must offer reasonable protection.  
However, let’s say Disney is sued and they are found negligent or that findings conclude a level of liability arising from nonfeasance. Now what happens? City parks in American cities and state and federal parks have all kinds of wildlife that can be lethal to humans. Precedent of law naturally extends to all kinds of situations where supposedly signs should create a state of “guest beware”. Are we willing to pay this cost?
Two instances of parents not maintaining control of their children have led to the child coming into contact with potentially lethal animals in the last month. The Gorilla and the Alligator cases. As horrible as these outcomes have been we must remember that parents have a duty also. They have a duty to use a high level of due diligence and have an elevated standard of care of the minors they oversee as parents. Part of this is to use common sense. Florida wetland is a habitat for alligators and other predators not to mention all types of bacteria in non-running percolating water. These dangers are common knowledge. Zoos contain a host of many lethal animals. The news is replete with animals escaping from time to time. Zoos can only offer a level of safety that is in all practicality ‘never certain’ and they, like theme parks, are by definition places where life or limb may be lost or injured. These places are ultra-hazardous and by this fact trump the ‘reasonableness’ standard of protection of guests. Under the case law ultra-hazardous defendants are most often strictly liable for losses of or death to plaintiffs. But..should parents also be held accountable when placing their minor children in these types of harm’s way?  
Just Food For Thought. The law is never simple and laws and court cases have rippling effect in both direct and indirect ways.

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