The Georgia Supreme Court has decided to hear a case involving a woman who was eaten by an alligator in a homeowner’s association lagoon. 83 year-old Gwyneth Williams was housesitting for her daughter and son-in-law in a Savannah subdivision. She was discovered floating in one of the association’s lagoons and the 8 foot alligator was later trapped and killed.
The woman’s family brought suit against the association arguing that it was negligent by failing to reasonably maintain the common areas to ensure safety of visitors and residents. The association claims that it has no liability for animals ferea natura (wild animals).
In the South Carolina case Singleton v. Sherer, our Court of Appeals analyzed liability for injuries caused by wild animals, namely a raccoon. The court first determined that the duty of care owed by the landowner depends on whether the guest is classified as an invitee (expressly or impliedly invited business visitor) or a licensee (person who enters the property with consent of the landowner and for his or her own benefit).
In that case, the court determined that because the guest was a licensee, the landowner only had a duty to warn him of concealed dangers, not open and obvious dangers. If Ms. Williams’s case was heard in South Carolina, it is likely that the court would decide under Singleton that since Ms. Williams was a licensee and alligators are indigenous in coastal waters, the association had no duty to take action or to warn her of the patent danger. While this case is an unfortunate incident, the court will have to take existing law and public policy concerns into account to determine the outcome. A decision against the association would change the way associations, developers and business owners allocate their risk of liability for wild animal attacks.
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