Could Disney, House of Blues Be Liable in Recent Rape Case?

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Orlando tourists and park-goers are concerned after a woman was apparently left unclothed and unconscious in the bushes outside the House of Blues at Walt Disney World in mid-July. As police officers announce the arrest of a suspected rapist in connection with the case, locals and visitors alike are wondering how the apparent assault could have happened in such a popular, crowded, and family-friendly environment.

Disney Springs House of Blues musicians

Orlando Police Make Arrest in the House of Blues Rape Case

Police say the victim was disoriented when they found her in the early hours of July 16. She remembered having as many as two beers and ten shots of vodka at her home the night before, followed by another three alcoholic beverages while inside the House of Blues that same night. She had no recollection, however, of leaving the bar or the events that followed. Investigators found the woman’s purse, clothing, and a used condom nearby.

The woman told police that she was not aware of any sexual encounter, but that if one happened, it was without her consent. Authorities later obtained security footage showing 26-year-old Hector Herrera with the victim in the club. The two reportedly left together, the woman stumbling along the way.

Deputies later arrested Herrera on sexual assault charges. He admits he and the victim had sex outside the House of Blues, though he insists it was a consensual decision made while walking to their cars. The official investigation, meanwhile, continues.

House of Blues is a dance club and bar located within Downtown Disney, a shopping-and-dining district that is open to the public (without theme park admission) at Walt Disney World.

Is There a Case for Liability Against Walt Disney World or House of Blues?

Under Florida premises liability law, businesses like Walt Disney World and House of Blues are required to take reasonable precautions to protect the public from harm, including criminal assaults. Failure to do so could give rise to a Florida premises liability lawsuit.

The relevant issue in this case would be whether either company was negligent in failing to provide additional security that could have prevented the attack. Victims often prevail in these kinds of cases if they can show that an assault happened in an area that was poorly lit or monitored, or if they can show that an attack was foreseeable.

Reportedly, this particular assault happened in shrubbery near the rear of the establishment, but details have yet to emerge about the extent of the security provided there. Certainly, the presence of security cameras would help the companies’ defense in the event of a lawsuit, but cameras alone are not determinative.

What About Dram Shop Liability for House of Blues?

Interestingly, in many other states, House of Blues could also be looking at a lawsuit on grounds of dram shop liability, a theory of law that holds bars accountable for serving too much alcohol to people who are already clearly intoxicated. (Those lawsuits are generally filed by third-party victims who are later injured by the inebriated person, but there is precedent for an inebriated party suing for his or her own damages.) Florida’s dram shop law is unfortunately one of the weakest in the country, however, and bringing a lawsuit on those grounds would prove difficult in this case.

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The Takeaway

Whether Walt Disney World or House of Blues will face a lawsuit in connection with this deeply disturbing story remains to be seen. As for the legal issues involved, readers can learn the following lessons:

  • Florida businesses have a legal duty to maintain safe premises for the public.
  • Violent crimes can happen anywhere, even in generally safe and family-friendly places.
  • Rape is a serious crime, and sex without clear consent is never acceptable.

At Bogin, Munns & Munns, we care about the safety of everyone in the greater Central Florida community — locals and tourists alike. If you or a loved one suffers injury or becomes the victim of a crime while visiting one of our city’s businesses, we may be able to help. Contact us to talk to an Orlando premises liability attorney at no charge today.

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NOTICE: The article above is not intended to serve as legal advice, and you should not rely on it as such. It is offered only as general information. You should consult with a duly licensed attorney regarding your Florida legal matter, as every situation is unique. Please know that merely reading this article, subscribing to this blog, or otherwise contacting Bogin, Munns & Munns does not establish an attorney-client relationship with our firm. Should you seek legal representation from Bogin, Munns & Munns, any such representation must first be agreed to by the firm and confirmed in a written agreement.

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