After an 83-year-old woman was killed by an alligator, her family filed a lawsuit against an exclusive gated community and its homeowners, saying they should be held liable for the woman’s death.
But on Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed, though it was a split decision.
“Williams knew the alligators were dangerous, yet still chose to walk at night near a lagoon where she knew wild alligators were present,” the ruling said.
Ms. Williams was housesitting for her daughter and son-in-law at their home in The Landings, a gated residential community of about 8,500 residents, according to court records.
The court records also provided the following details:
The 83-year-old woman, who lived independently in Canada, had visited her daughter a number of times before, sometimes staying a couple of months.
This time, she had offered to care for the couple’s two dogs while they were in Italy.
Alligators are indigenous to community, which is located on 4,500 acres on Skidaway Island, a coastal barrier island near Savannah. And the animals were there before and after The Landings was developed in the 1970s.
In building the property, the developers had drained swampy areas and created an interconnected system of 151 lagoons.
Since the community was developed, there had never been an alligator attack against a person.
Although no warnings about alligators were posted at the lagoons, The Landings Association did warn residents in publications and on its website that alligators were present and could be extremely dangerous.
Behind the house where Ms. Williams was staying was Lagoon No. 15, which was bordered by a park-like common area on one side and a golf course owned by The Landings Club on the other.
On the night of Oct. 5, 2007, Ms. Williams apparently went alone for a walk sometime after 6 p.m.
“At about that time, several boys reported to the property’s security forces that they heard a woman crying for help,” officials said. “On Oct. 6, Williams’ mutilated body was found floating in Lagoon No. 15. Her right foot and both forearms had been bitten off.
“Later an eight-foot alligator was found in the same lagoon and parts of Williams’ body were found in the animal’s stomach.”
The ruling said that Ms. Williams "either knowingly assumed the risks of walking in areas inhabited by wild alligators or failed to exercise ordinary care by doing so," the court said.
Monday’s ruling reversed a prior decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals, which had allowed the case to go forward.
The Supreme Court's decision effectively ended the lawsuit brought by Ms. Williams' heirs against The Landings and its homeowners.
See a discussion on the case at: http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2012/06/18/ga-suprem...
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