Untamed Lowcountry

Man who lost arm in 2009 alligator attack at Fripp gets settlement

In this file photo from March, several gators were out of the water soaking up the warmth on the banks of a Sea Pines lagoon on Hilton Head Island.
In this file photo from March, several gators were out of the water soaking up the warmth on the banks of a Sea Pines lagoon on Hilton Head Island. Staff photo

An Ohio man has received a confidential settlement following a 2009 alligator attack in which his arm was bitten off.

The settlement with Fripp Island Resort Inc., is thought to be the nation's first successful claim against a private development involving a wild alligator attack, according to Chappell, Smith & Arden, the law firm that represented the Ohio man.

The case was handled in federal court but never went to trial, according to court records. Fripp Island and affilates did not admit wrongdoing.

Attorney Mark D. Chappell, who represented the attack victim, argued that alligators can become aggressive when fed by humans. Otherwise, they are naturally fearful of humans and generally retreat when humans approach.

"Through the defendants' own documents we were able to establish that the alligators at this golf course were routinely fed by tourists and visitors, and yet the defendants did not warn visitors or properly investigate alligator related complaints," said Chappell.

He also argued the development should have not allowed such a dangerous animal on site.

"Once an alligator gets above 6 feet -- and this one was 10 and a half feet -- it is eating mammals," Chappell said Thursday. "Once they get that large, they're so predatory that they need to be removed. Our theory was (Fripp Island) was allowing dangerous alligators to live there that needed to be removed."

Charleston attorney Laura Evans, one of the attorneys who represented Fripp Island in the case, said only the case has been resolved and the terms are confidential.

"My client and I wish Mr. (James) Wiencek all the best in the future," she said Thursday, referring to the victim.

Wiencek, 77 at the time, was visiting his son on the island. They were playing golf on the 11th hole of the island's Ocean Creek Golf Course when Wiencek leaned down at the edge of a lagoon to pick up his ball. Suddenly the 400-pound alligator grabbed him by his arm, according to media reports, and dragged him into a pond.

The reptile went into "death rolls," a technique used to tear apart food. Wiencek's son and other golfers freed him and called 911.

The animal was killed by Tracks Wildlife Control in Beaufort, and the arm was removed from its digestive tract.

It could not be reattached, Chappell said.

"He's got a great attitude," Chappell said of his client, who is still living in Ohio. "But he misses golfing."

Related content

  1. Surgeons surmise outcome of alligator victim's treatment, Oct. 16, 2009
  2. Gator attack victim remains hospitalized in Charleston, Oct. 10, 2009
  3. Fripp Island golfer loses arm to alligator, Oct. 8, 2009