In light of the recent death of a 2 year old boy by an alligator attack in the Orlando Walt Disney World Resort, associations who operate water bodies within their communities may be wondering what, if anything, they should do to help prevent such tragedies and to protect themselves from liability in the event a wild animal does attack.
The concept is called “ferae naturae” in legal terms, meaning “wild animals.” The question is whether an association owes a duty to its homeowners to guard them against wild animals. In short, the answer is “no.”
The Law on Wildlife
Florida courts have held that landowners do not owe a duty to protect people from wild animal attacks unless the landowner has possessed, harbored or introduced the non-native animal to the property. Alligators are indigenous to Florida and, therefore, it is typically not an association’s obligation to protect owners from them.
However, because it is reasonably foreseeable that alligators will be present in fresh water bodies in Florida, and it is likely that owners, guests and pets may want to enjoy viewing and walking by the water, it is recommended that warning signs be posted advising not to feed alligators, not to swim and to beware of the water’s edge. Signs will not only help protect against the association’s liability but also help protect owners and visitors from potential dangerous attacks, especially if an association is aware that alligators are present in association-maintained water bodies.
If association boards are concerned about the actual presence of alligators within the property, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a hotline, 866-FWC-GATOR, which considers alligator complaints. If a complaint meets certain criteria, the FWC will authorize removal by a contracted trapper.
The Final Scoop
While Florida law generally does not support holding associations or landowners liable for attacks by indigenous wild animals, since the likelihood is high that at some point an alligator will find its way to Florida water bodies, it is a good idea to post notices along association water bodies.
Photo courtesy of L’eau Bleue under Flickr Creative Commons