Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jury finds Condo Association and Management Company 90% liable for child's death


In a tragic story dating back to 2011, a jury recently awarded $12 million to grieving parents and found a Jupiter condominium association 30% responsible, a management company 60% liable and an elderly driver 10% culpable for the death of a 9-year old boy.
The child was struck on his bike by an 81-year old woman exiting her Jupiter condominium community. The driver’s judgment together with association hedges that were twice as high as Jupiter Code permitted and a stop sign that was four feet shorter than the Department of Transportation required (and in the wrong location) created a fatal combination.
Without having access to the undoubtedly extensive discovery in this case, many questions remain about who did what and why. Did the manager inform the board about the condition of the hedges and the stop sign.? Did the board know and decide to do nothing either due to budgetary constraints or disagreement with the manager’s recommendations? Did the board assume the manager was on top of community maintenance and therefore was blissfully unaware that a problem loomed? Why was the landscape company not held responsible to ensure the hedges’ height complied with local Code?
The jury’s award reflects that it placed a greater expectation on the management company to take steps to prevent this tragedy. The association was held to be half as liable as the management company and the driver who actually struck and killed the victim was assigned the least amount of responsibility for the wrongful death.

This is a cautionary tale for other managers and boards who may be unaware of the condition of their communities. Certainly, regular “premises audits” would be advisable as well as ensuring that vendors such as pool companies, landscapers, etc. all warrant that their work will comply with local codes and ordinances. For those managers who may have identified items needing repairs and/or upgrades only to be ignored, it may be time to resign the account.

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