Disney reviewing whether its ‘No swimming’ signs need alligator warning

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office released a picture of Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was dragged into water at Walt Disney World by an alligator.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office released a picture of Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was dragged into water at Walt Disney World by an alligator. PROVIDED BY ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Walt Disney World vowed on Thursday to review its signage policies after a 2-year-old was killed by an alligator as he waded in a lake on resort property where a sign said only “No swimming” with no warning about alligators.

“All of our beaches are currently closed, and we are conducting a swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols,” said Jacquee Wahler, vice president of Walt Disney World Resort. “This includes the number, placement and wording of our signage and warnings.”

While Disney has not confirmed signs will go up, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the resort plans to put up alligator warning signs immediately, citing “a source with knowledge of the situation.”

Lane Graves, 2, who was vacationing with his parents Melissa and Matt and his two other siblings at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa near the Magic Kingdom, was wading near the edge of a manmade lake on Tuesday when the gator — which witnesses said was between four and seven feet long — grabbed him.

His body was found on Wednesday. Five alligators were captured and killed during the search for the toddler.

Wildlife experts said the Nebraska toddler was likely mistaken for prey at a time of night when the reptiles tend to be active and feed.

Tom Scolaro, a partner at the Miami-based personal injury law firm of Leesfield Scolaro, said Disney “was more than negligent” in “failing to provide any warning signs whatsoever.”

“I think it’s reckless conduct,” Scolaro said. “Why would a Disney resort have a beach with lounge chairs and family activities next to a manmade lagoon infested with alligators and not provide warning to out-of-town tourists and guests who do not have a clue about the dangerous conditions in its property? The resort certainly had prior knowledge of alligators there.”

Disney had “no swimming” signs but no warning signs about the presence of alligators.

 ‘No swimming’ can mean swim at your own risk, no lifeguard, or steep drop off,” he said. “ ‘No swimming’ does not translate into ‘watch out for alligators’ under any definition or any language,” Scolaro said, adding that he thinks the family has “valid claim for the loss of their child. Certainly that is the last thing on their mind, and it should be. These folks are dealing with a tragedy and that is first.”

Laurie Sherwood, a San Francisco attorney who focuses her practice on travel, tourism and public entity litigation, said “there is always a potential for a lawsuit.”

“That’s how our country operates,” she said, adding that in this case, however, “Disney may seek to resolve this before there is any litigation or lawsuit filed.”

Sherwood said the specifics of the case, including exactly what happened that night, whether the guests were given additional information upon check-in and whether they had knowledge of the problem, will play a huge part in the outcome.

But, in general, she said a property owner “has a duty to keep his property reasonably safe.”

“There’s a question here of foreseeability or the likelihood that this would happen,” she said. “This is a really rare occurrence.”

And while Disney did not have posted signs, at least one nearby resort did.

The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, a few miles east of Disney World, has a similar lagoon. On the shoreline are signs that read “No Swimming,” and “Beware. Please be Aware of Alligators in the Lake.”

The signs have been there for many years and there hasn’t been a problem with guests encountering gators, said Pat Enfer, the Hyatt’s general manager.

“We have the signs there just for caution,” Enfer said. “If we see [an alligator] then we remove it.”

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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