From Golf Course Gators to Everyday Squirrels: How Animals Cause Liability Issues

Now that the temperature is finally starting to feel a little more fall-like—or at least dropping below 90 degrees!—Floridian humans aren’t the only ones enjoying the weather! From oversized alligators to slithery snakes, plenty of critters are out and about, sometimes in places where we might not expect to see them. While unique wildlife isn’t a new phenomenon, a run-in with an animal, whether it’s a gator on a golf course or a turtle in the road, can be surprising, disconcerting, or even dangerous. What do you need to know to stay safe around Florida wildlife?

Recent Wildlife Sightings

One of the recent sightings concerns a fan favorite: a massive alligator nicknamed Chubbs. Chubbs, who is a whopping 15 feet long, was first spotted at a golf course in Palmetto in 2016. A video of him casually strolling across the green quickly went viral. He returned to the same golf course earlier this week, where he once again shocked golfers with his size. Luckily, though, Chubbs was not an issue for anyone on the golf course. He seems content with just hanging out on the green, doing some sunbathing, and watching golf!

This month’s second wildlife sighting also took place on a golf course, this time in St. Petersburg. A group of golfers were getting ready to move onto the next hole when they spotted a large rattlesnake. It’s hard to estimate exactly how big it is, but since even small snakes can pose poisonous dangers, it must have been a scary sight. Like with Chubbs, the rattlesnake didn’t bother the golfers.

Wildlife and Premise Liablity

These recent golf course sights are intriguing, but the presence of wild animals in strange places raises some liability questions. If a wild animal hurts a golfer, is the golf course liable?

In the golf course scenario, liability waivers might play a role. Before heading to the green, golfers might  sign a waiver that assumes responsibility for any reasonable dangers. Since alligators are a common feature of Florida ponds, they might be included. For example, if a golfer ventured into a pond and was bitten by an alligator, the golf course might not be liable. Still, golf courses still have a duty to keep their patrons safe, which includes warning them of present dangers, so if they knew about an alligator-infested pond but failed to mention it, they could potentially be liable for any injuries.

Of course, golf courses aren’t the only places where alligators and other critters might show up. From backyard pools to wildlife trails, they can be pretty much anywhere. In some areas, like nature parks or rivers, animals like snakes and alligators are again a reasonable danger. This means that as long as warnings are given, parties like park management are not generally liable for injuries.

Who is Liable?

For injuries that occur in residential areas, like in someone’s own backyard, liability can be more complicated. In one example from 2017, a woman was attacked by an alligator while gardening in her front yard. It was later found that her neighbors had been feeding the alligator, potentially increasing the likelihood of the attack. This means that, it if could be  proven that the neighbors encouraged the gator or that the homeowner’s association failed to warn people not to feed the alligator, they could be liable for the woman’s serious injuries. However, a situation like this is very complicated. Thankfully, it is also very rare.

Animals on the Roads

Animals don’t have to be big or poisonous to cause issues. When animals, from turtles to everyday squirrels, wander into the road, they can lead to complications for drivers. For example, if a driver swerves to avoid an animal in the road, they might collide with another vehicle, pedestrian, or other object, like a guardrail. Or if a driver might slow down to avoid an animal but the driver behind them is texting and rear-ends them. In cases like these, accident liability depends on the circumstances of the accident. In the first example, the swerving driver might be liable for the accident, while the texting driver was the negligent party in the second.

Wildlife Safety Tips

Wildlife is an exciting and unique part of Florida, but it wild animals can also lead to concerns and dangers. To stay safe around Florida wildlife, whether you’re on the road, at the park, or even in your own backyard, keep these tips in mind:

  • When at a public place, like a park or golf course, look for signs that warn you about any dangerous wildlife
  • Never feed alligators
  • Keep children and dogs away from ponds
  • Don’t go swimming in ponds, especially at night, and be cautious when fishing or doing other activities near water
  • Stay away from wildlife, even if it looks harmless or dead
  • Learn which snakes are poisonous
  • If you encounter an animal in the road, do not try to suddenly swerve or stop
  • Never drive after drinking or while distracted, because you might not react quickly enough to an animal or other obstacle

We live in such a beautiful state and it’s important to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. But first, make sure you know how to stay safe around wildlife!

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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