Walt Disney Accused of Firing Intern Who Objected to Sign Telling Employees To Deny Risk Of Alligators At Florida Property

We previously discussed the tragic death of Lane Graves, 2, at a Disney resort after an alligator attack. Things are already pretty bad for the company, but there is yet another twist. A Walt Disney World intern was fired after she posted objected to a sign advising employees to tell guests that they do not know of any alligators in the waters. After an outcry, the company has rehired Shannon Sullivan. The question remains whether such evidence could be introduced to show the company’s alleged continued misrepresentation or concealment of the risks associated with the alligators.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Sullivan was fired after posting a picture of a sign that told employees to respond to guests (who ask about any alligators): “Not that we know of, but if we see one, we will call pest management to have it removed.”


The whole message reads like a Plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream:

“If a Guest asks if we have gators in the water around Tom Sawyer’s Island (or any bodies of water), the correct and appropriate response is, ‘Not that we know of, but if we see one, we will call Pest Management to have it removed.’ Please do not say we have seen them before. We do not want our Guests to be afraid while walking around Frontierland [part of Disney’s Magic Kingdom]. As a reminder, this is a serious matter. Please do not make jokes with our guests about this.”

Sullivan was fired after she objected to the sign. She lost her job as an intern in Disney World’s College Program. After the outcry, Disney denied that the sign was approved by the company and Sullivan was rehired.

Part of the case against Disney will be its failure to inform guests of the risk of alligators. This is a post-accident event but it is not clear when the poster was put up. Disney might claim that the poster is part of a subsequent or post remedial repair under Rule 407:

Rule 407. Subsequent Remedial Measures
When measures are taken that would have made an earlier injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove:

culpable conduct;
a defect in a product or its design; or
a need for a warning or instruction.
But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as impeachment or — if disputed — proving ownership, control, or the feasibility of precautionary measures.

In addition there is the question of materiality and prejudice since the company is denying that it approved the sign. Indeed, the sign is incredibly moronic for a company facing a massive potential lawsuit.

Yet, these were reportedly employees or contractors under Disney’s direction or control. Moreover, the plaintiffs would argue that Disney either explicitly or implicitly downplayed the the risk. The controversy with Sullivan could be viewed as evidence of ongoing problems within Disney regarding the risks. It could present an interesting issue first in deposition and later at trial.

19 thoughts on “Walt Disney Accused of Firing Intern Who Objected to Sign Telling Employees To Deny Risk Of Alligators At Florida Property”

  1. It’s curious that the sign is not on official Disney stationary and there is no official logis on the sign. Also there would be an electronic copy on a Disney hard drive somewhere…unless Disney intentionally withheld the ties to the company and intentionally removed the copy from the hard drive.

    If Disney intentionally created the sign, without fingerprints, they likely knew it was legally questionable before the sign was made.

    1. RB – you do know there is a whole area of Disneyworld that is backstage? Anything there is officially Disney.

  2. @Kcf

    ROTFLMAO!!! Gay Kittens!

    So true, why doesn’t Disney hire James Taylor to come down there and sing for everybody? Loretta Lynch could start a Hug-a-Gator Day, to show them some love.

    IMO, Disney should have warned about the gators, and not ignored them, but doesn’t this pale to all the black on black murders that Obama and people like Betty Kath just sort of . . . wish away? Our whole country is living in “pretend land” where we just don’t mention a lot of deadly things. Like sodomy, which kills more gay Americans each year than get murdered. Like welfare which has destroyed the black community and in effect castrated 75% of the black men in the country.

    Oh, forget all that. If you believe, wherever you are, then clap, clap! All across the world clap!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  3. Parents of boy killed by alligator at Disney resort will not sue…..Settled July 20, 2016!

    Matt and Melissa Graves, whose 2-year-old Lane was dragged to his death at the Orlando resort, said they will “solely be focused on the future health of our family and will not be pursuing a lawsuit against Disney.”
    The parents’ joint statement did not say if they received any settlement cash from Disney, and did not cite a specific reason for declining legal action.

    Walt Disney World President George Kalogridis said in a statement the company will “continue to provide ongoing support for the family, which includes honoring their request for privacy.” But he did not specify what the “support” entailed.

  4. Well, I see Alaska didn’t take the sue-happy out of you.

    BTW, what case?

    “We will solely be focused on the future health of our family and will not be pursuing a lawsuit against Disney. For now, we continue to ask for privacy as we focus on our family.”

    They may or may not have settled but either way my guess is the Graves were contacted by one to many unsolicited offers from plaintiff lawyers in search of a wet dream.

    You should respect the Graves’ request as well.

    P.S. Would you have sued the motel owner in Alaska for not putting up a sign if a wolf was wandering down the road, out front, and you were hit by a car while attempting to pet it?

    1. Cornflake – my original take on this was that Disney immediately comped them the rooms and then their lawyers moved in. Since they are not suing, I am guessing they signed a NDA after a hefty settlement.

  5. Excellent evidence question. Whew! It’s a bit difficult to be drinking coffee at breakfast and draw appropriate conclusions about complex evidentiary issues like this, even if I could otherwise. I’ll take a stab at it though.

    I’d think both the signage and the discharged employee’s testimony are material, because they’re inferential evidence of the company’s policy to fail to warn of, protect against, and intentionally misrepresent a known danger to Disney’s invitees, licensees and even trespassers. They are admissible to impeach Disney. And, they may be admissible to show Disney’s habitual response to a particular set of circumstances under FRE 406. Further, inadmissible evidence of remedial repair can be used to prove feasibility of precautionary measures which seems to me to be at the core of a gross failure to warn/protect.

    Admissibility of the signage (if it was first posted after the homicide) may teeter on whether the judge thinks the evidence is really being introduced as otherwise inadmissible evidence of propensity, along with what Prof. Turley mentioned – inadmissible evidence of remedial repairs. (If it was posted before the homicide, Disney’s defense gradient just got even steeper.)

    As Al Reardon aptly mentioned, the discharged employee’s testimony is an admission concerning a matter within the scope of employment so it’s admissible if relevant. It’s admissibility may be conditional (having to be linked up to relevant evidence), however, and may be limited to when she saw the sign, what it said, and any further evidence of such a business routine under similar circumstances.

    I think objecting on grounds of prejudice, waste of time, and/or confusion of the issues are losers in such a high profile case unless the judge likes gambling against the risk of a new trial or unless the judge has a round of golf to play that afternoon.

    My $0.02.

    I’d be interested in hearing more from the evidence gurus on the list.

  6. Whistle blower needs to prepare a case, taking on king of the jungle.
    Big mistake. Crocodile kills a Lion.

  7. Why not deny gators exist?
    Universities in the US do this all the time.
    Deny reality to create a ‘safe space’ free from uncomfortable ideas and people you don’t like.

    Reality is now fungible and deniable.
    Men are women, murderous religious zealots are peaceful, BLM is peaceful not a violent leftist front, minimum wage works, the unemployed aren’t, the increasing homelessness isn’t, Hillary didn’t get 4 employees killed, Hillary didn’t commit a crime with her emails (but others did).

    I keep telling you, the mendacity and denial of reality in Washington is making it possible (essential) for lies like this to be told with impunity.

    Denial of reality is pure leftist dogma.
    Chocolate rations have been increased!

    1. KCFleming – we could have the students at Oberlin create a safe place for alligators at Disneyworld.

  8. And we need some bumper stickers for Nebraskans:

    Stay The Hell Out Of Florida!

  9. I think that we need some bumper stickers for Floridians:

    Alligators Need Love Too!

  10. It is admissible in federal court under the Federal Rules of Evidence as an admission of a party opponent. The intern is an agent of the party opponent (Disneyland). But, what does it admit? You must state how it is relevant. It is relevant to the issue of denial of risk of death and the matter of causation of death or injury. See Rule 801 d 2. In plaintiff’s case you put the intern on the stand, or someone who was told by the intern of the sign and the policy. The Rule is an exception to the hearsay rule so it is not hearsay.
    Did you hear me? Did you hear Disney?
    Walt is rolling over in his grave.

  11. I think a creative plaintiff’s attorney will be able to get the sign and the firing into the case.

  12. Everybody wants a payday. I’m sure more cast members will be smelling the green.

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