On Alligators and the Law

By October 19, 2011

We just couldn’t help ourselves. A story about the “animals ferae naturae” doctrine. From Today’s WSJ.com Law Blog. Read the full gruesome story here.

By Dionne Searcey

If you haven’t noticed that wild animals are all over the news today, you’ve clearly started hibernating in your dark cave a bit on the early side. But we’ve come across one with a legal spin that holds some intrigue.
According to the LA Times, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed to hear the grisly case of 83-year-old Gwyneth Williams who was house-sitting for relatives in 2007 in a Savannah subdivision when an alligator attacked and killed her.
Her family sued the subdivision’s homeowners’ association, saying it should have done a better job keeping visitors safe in the area where alligators were common. A key issue in the case: should the “animals ferae naturae” doctrine shield the association.
The legal theory culled from a Texas appellate court decision is this, according to the LA Times: a landowner can’t be held responsible for the acts of a ferae naturae, which is an indigenous wild animal, unless the landowner has “reduced the wild animals to possession or control, or introduced a non-indigenous animal to the area.”
Alligators are certainly indigenous to Georgia, the story points out. In his appeal, Walter W. Ballew III, the association’s attorney, wrote “a landowner should not be penalized for the presence of wild animals on his or her property.” It’s a matter of good public policy, he wrote.
Attorneys for Williams’ family said the alligator had been in the lagoon for a long time and should have been removed. The court will hear arguments on the case in February.