Despite all the new activity at Orlando’s Walt Disney World, including the opening of a new attraction based on the popular animated film Frozen, one tragic incident has cast a dark cloud over the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth.”
After a toddler was snatched and killed by an alligator at the Orlando park, Walt Disney Co is facing a public relations crisis and a potential lawsuit.
“When people think of Disney they think of magic, the unbelievable, and everything is going to be fun. This incident flies in the face of that,” Sam Singer, a crisis communications consultant, said. Singer represented the San Francisco Zoo in 2007 when a teenage boy was killed by an escaped tiger.
The alligator attack occurred in mid-June, while Disney’s top officials were on the other side of the world for the launch of the long-awaited Shanghai theme park. Despite the distance, the company was quick to react to the Florida tragedy. Bob Iger, Disney Chief Executive, called the boy’s family as soon as he caught wind of the incident, and also made a public statement offering his condolences. George Kalogridis, Walt Disney World president, flew to Florida from Shanghai. A statement conveying Kaogridis’ sympathy was posted shortly after the accident occurred to the park’s official blog.
The toddler’s family made a public statement, saying they were “devastated” and thanking “local authorities and staff who worked tirelessly” to find the boy and the gator. Though the family has not announced that it will file a lawsuit, the very possibility complicates matters for Disney, especially in their responses to the tragedy. “The more they say, the more liability they could potentially create for themselves,” Singer said.
Jude Engelmayer, another crisis manager, said Disney is doing “all they can do at the moment.” On the company’s response, Engelmayer said, “They are low key, contrite and helpful.”
Several legal experts agree that Disney will be strongly inclined to quickly settle, should a lawsuit come about. One potential issue the company faces is the fact that no signs were posted in the beach area warning park-goers of the threat of alligators. Though Floridians know where gators most commonly lurk, Disney attracts visitors from all over the world, who aren’t familiar with that same knowledge.
“These people are from Nebraska and I can guarantee never once did they think they were in any type of danger letting their child wade in six inches of water,” Lou Pendas, an Orlando personal injury lawyer, said. Pendas has defended individuals incases against Disney in the past, but said he can only recall one other incident involving an alligator, which occurred over 30 years ago and was not fatal.
The rarity of alligator attacks at the park, Pendas emphasized, does not remove Disney’s burden of responsibility.
“This is unbelievably rare but could easily have been avoided by proper signage and perhaps building a retention wall to keep the alligators off the beach,” he said. “The law says you have to take appropriate steps to keep your invitees safe.”
A source close to the incident claimed Disney has plans to post alligator warning signs in the area of the attack. For more information regarding the Alligator Attack at Disney World, [Click Here].