A mobile home resident died after suffering numerous fire ant bites while walking his dog in a common area of a park called the "Preserve." The ants apparently came into contact with the man when he brushed up against a bush. The man's wife brought suit against the mobile home park owner alleging the owner had a duty to protect him from the ants. The park owner was not aware of any particular fire ant infestations at the Preserve. The park's exterminator had killed fire ants in the past, and represented that the red fire ants were wild animals indigenous to South Florida and that permanent eradication would be impossible.
Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the landowner. The court cited a legal doctrine called ferae naturae, meaning "animals of a wild nature or disposition," which dates back to the Roman empire. Under the doctrine, wild animals are presumed to be owned by the people generally. A landowner is not responsible for harm caused by wild animals unless he or she introduced the animals to the premises or had specific knowledge of the hazard presented by them. The court relied upon another case in which the city of St. Petersburg was not responsible for a shark attack because there was no evidence to indicate the city had knowledge of a wild animal attack in the area.
However, the court did note that a premises owner might be negligent with regard to wild animal attacks in some circumstances. This could occur when animals are found in artificial structures or places where they are not usually found, like stores, hotels, or billboards, if the landowner has reason to know of the unreasonable risk to unsuspecting patrons.