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Animal Attacks and Premises Liability at Hotels

Casey Woodruff

liabilityBy now, many residents of Champaign likely have heard about the alligator attack that occurred at a Walt Disney resort and resulted in the death of a young boy. According to an article in The Washington Post, the two-year-old had been walking near a man-made lake, the Seven Seas Lagoon, near Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa when an alligator came out of the water and dragged the boy under. When animal attacks such as this one occur at a hotel or resort, can the victim file a premises liability lawsuit? As the article explains, Disney had posted signs warning visitors not to swim in the water of the lagoon, but it did not post any signs that warned against the possible presence of alligators.

Given that Disney failed to provide warnings about the area and did not take steps to remove potential hazards to guests, it may be held liable for the young boy’s death under the legal theory of premises liability. While the recent attack occurred in Florida, Champaign residents should take this case seriously. Whether you are in another state on vacation or simply staying at a hotel or resort in Chicago, the Disney alligator attack can help us to understand how a similar case might move forward in Illinois. To comprehend how premises liability might apply in a case like this one, it is important to understand how premises liability law works.

Understanding Premises Liability Law

The Illinois Premises Liability Act outlines the duty owed by property owners to guests in our state. Generally speaking, the law requires property owners to use reasonable care to identify and repair any dangerous conditions that exist on their property. If they cannot repair those hazardous conditions, then the law allows property owners to warn visitors about those known dangers. In other words, a property owner must keep his or her premises free from hazardous conditions or provide adequate warnings to guests so that they can avoid those potentially harmful surroundings.

In order to win a premises liability lawsuit in Illinois, a plaintiff needs to prove the following:

  • There was a hazardous condition on a person or entity’s property;
  • The property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition;
  • The property owner failed to remedy the hazard or to adequately warn visitors about it; and
  • The visitor suffered an injury as a result of the hazardous condition.

Known Hazards at Hotels and Resorts

As the article explains, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regularly issues warnings to Florida residents and guests about the possibility of an alligator attack in any body of water. However, for guests visiting a Disney resort from out of state—the fatally injured boy and his family traveled to Florida from Nebraska—knowledge about alligator attacks likely is lacking. As such, it is quite possible that Disney knew (or should have known) about the possibility of alligators in the lake and should have provided specific warnings about an animal attack in or around the Seven Seas Lagoon. Since the incident, Disney has added such signage to the property.

If you or someone you love got hurt at a hotel or resort, an experienced Champaign premises liability lawyer can help. Contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans today to learn more about how we can assist with your case.

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