Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

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Why Disney Needs to Accept Responsibility for the Death of Lane Graves starstarstarstarstar

The tragic death of 2 year-old Lane Graves has filled the electronic and print media since June 14, 2016.  On that evening the young boy’s life ended by the shore of Disney’s upscale Grand Floridian Resort.  The child had been on the sandy shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon as at least one alligator lurked nearby.  As he walked toward what he thought was a toy or animal, Lane was snatched and pulled under water.

Lane’s parents Matt and Melissa tried in vain to save their son.  The alligator pulled the boy under, where he was found the next day in six feet of water nearby.  The horror experienced by the Graves is something virtually no other parent could ever understand.  Even parents who have lost their children – to illness, trauma, even violence – cannot begin the perceive of what Matt and Melissa must confront every waking moment.  Having their child snatched in front of them…trying to save their precious son from the violent grasp of a prehistoric reptile…watching helplessly as the beast takes their beautiful boy from them…words can only do injustice to the searing emotions that thankfully few on this planet could ever experience.

The aftermath is a family emotionally shattered. Parents who have lost not only their child but have been personally assaulted as well. And for this low-key, Nebraska family, they are now the center of national media attention.  This is the kind of media no person, parent or human wants.  They have appropriately stayed out of the media spotlight.  They have acted with dignity and class, in a world full of classless media and desperate journalists.

Now what?  We know by now that Disney had a serious alligator problem.  They were seen monitoring alligators from that area shortly before the attack.  They had records of hundreds of alligators in this lagoon and even on splash mountain.  Unbeknownst to the Graves family, that very evening the alligator lurking on the shore was reported to Disney management.  Yet nothing was done.

Here is the point:  While Disney clearly is responsible for this senseless loss, they owe the Graves more than compensation for their loss.  They owe them an apology.  They also owe them punitive damages.  Those are damages awarded to punish someone and to deter others from committing the same acts or omissions.  Though rare in Florida, punitive damages are available and appropriate here.  Because Disney acted recklessly, with knowledge that someone would likely be killed or seriously injured if something was not done differently, they open themselves to punitive damages.

While the Big Mouse might think they did enough by rounding up alligators, or by claiming their “no swimming” signs warned guests, in the real world their failure have a huge human cost.  Corporate Disney owes the Graves much more than any of us can conceive.  But that fact does not mean that they do now owe them.  Presumably the Graves chose to spend their vacation – and money – at Disney’s Grand Floridian because Disney had carefully cultivated a reputation for safety, high quality and a child-safe environment. Now it turns out that Disney has known for a long, long time that alligators were a problem in their own man-made lake over which they have exclusive control.  This was not a lake that existed before Disney bought up thousands of acres of land in the 1960s.  They created this through their “imagineering” of Disney World and specified every small detail down to the design, color and materials for every doorknob and planter.  So instead of spending the time and money to engineer a means to keep alligators out of this lagoon, Disney advertised worldwide to families.  This lagoon, with the sandy beach leading right up to the alligator’s wide mouth.  The alligator one might have mistaken for an animatronic feature so often heralded by the Disney “imagineers” themselves. After enjoying the robotic animals on Pirates of the Caribbean, Lane Graves likely saw the gliding alligator as one more feature of the Disney experience.

America’s hearts go out to the Graves family.  Yet what they want, certainly, is something nobody can give them.  Not America. Not the media. Not even Disney.  They want their son back.  They deserve that.  And they can never, ever have that.

Shame on you Disney.  For waiting until the worst thing possible happened before you did anything reasonable.  Before putting up real warnings.  Before putting up fences. Before eliminating the alligator problem.  Before stepping up and realizing that, like Jurassic Park, once you create a monster you have to take responsibility for it.

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