By David Wolf, Child Injury Lawyer
The State of Florida is a tourist destination for millions of visitors every year. In Florida, we have beaches, resorts, theme parks, water parks, lakes, rivers, ponds, lagoons, and a number of alligators. Certainly, personal injuries caused by an automobile accident are far more common than personal injuries caused by an alligator attack. As such, there are literally thousands of appellate cases and rulings associated with personal injuries and automobile accidents. On the other hand, the laws and appellate cases associated with alligator attacks are quite sparse. A recent incident at Walt Disney World Orlando made national headline news. Unfortunately, it focused media attention in the State of Florida and Orlando for a tragedy rather than any kind of celebration. More importantly and more tragically, a Nebraska family, who innocently was just trying to enjoy the “Magic” of Walt Disney World Orlando, will be heading home with one less family member who was attacked and dragged away by an alligator at the Seven Seas Lagoon.
In Palumbo v. State Game & Fresh Water Fish Commission, 487 So.2d 352 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1986), a personal injury victim (Christopher Palumbo) sought the review of a trial court order granting summary judgment for the defendant – the State of Florida. In other words, the trial court threw out the personal injury victim’s case. The trial court ruled that the evidence, when considered in the light most favorable to the injury victim, was insufficient to support a claim or case for negligence against the State of Florida. Mr. Palumbo was injured at the University of Florida – Lake Wauberg Recreational Park. He noticed that a boat had capsized. Mr Palumbo decided to swim out to the boat to help the boaters with a repair. As he was swimming towards the boat, Mr. Palumbo was attacked by an alligator and he was injured. Mr. Palumbo later filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission. The trial court threw out the case and determined that the State of Florida was not required to fence and was not required to otherwise keep alligators out of the area. The trial court further noted that Mr. Palumbo disregarded warning signs that were posted at the recreational park / facility. The First District Court of Appeal affirmed the rulings of the trial court. The First District Court of Appeal noted that the State of Florida did not have a duty to guard the visitor against harm from an alligator unless the alligator was reduced to the possession of the State of Florida or the alligator was not indigenous to the locality. The First District Court of Appeal further noted that Mr. Palumbo ignored clear warning signs at the facility which, in turn, was the sole proximate cause of his personal injuries. In addition to “No Swimming” signs posted at the recreational park, there were a variety of signs warning of and referencing the presence of alligators in the area including one sign that read “Unlawful to Feed Alligators” and another sign that read “Don’t Feed or Molest . . . “ with a large graphic of an alligator on it. In the Palumbo case, there were clear warning signs of alligators in the area which appeared to be an important part of the rulings of the trial court and the appellate court.