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Alligator Attack the Focus of Wrongful Death Suit

An alligator attack is the focus of a wrongful death lawsuit under review by the Georgia Supreme Court this week.

At issue in the suit is a legal doctrine that protects landowners from liability when guests are attacked by wild animals while on their property.

In 2007, 83-year-old Gwyneth S. Williams was attacked by an alligator at The Landings, a golf and residential resort located on Skidaway Island just off the coast of Savannah.

Williams' heirs filed a wrongful death suit against The Landings in 2008, after she died from injuries sustained in the attack.

Attorneys for The Landings argue that the landowners are freed from liability in the case under the doctrine of "ferae naturae," which holds that property owners cannot be held responsible for harm caused by wild animals on their land.

They also argued that although no warnings about possible alligator attacks were posted on the property, residents were warned about the danger in publications and on its Web site.

Attorneys for the family countered that the doctrine of ferae naturae does not apply if the property owner has prior knowledge of the presence of wild animals and has actually done something to attract them.

They allege The Landings fed the animals and maintained the habitat in their lagoons specifically to attract alligators, court documents show.

Oral arguments in the case began on Monday.