Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Board and management company sued for failing to enforce community restrictions

We often hear of community residents upset about “condo commandos” overzealously enforcing the community’s rules and regulations. What about those times when a board chooses not to make an issue over rule infractions? Sometimes you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t.

An 83-year-old Port St. Lucie man died more than two months after being attacked by a pit bull in February 2009 and his widow and adult son are suing the dog’s owners for wrongful death.

The civil suit filed last week in the 19th Circuit Court of St. Lucie County also names Cascade at St. Lucie West Residents’ Association and the association’s management company as defendants for allegedly failing to enforce dog weight limits and leash laws in the subdivision’s covenants. It also names insurance companies representing the Cutlers, the homeowners association and the management company as defendants for allegedly failing to pay Mr. Klatch’s medical bills.

According to the complaint, Robert J. Klatch was riding in a golf cart Feb. 11, 2009, in the Cascades at St. Lucie West neighborhood when his shih tzu, Shayna, was attacked by a pit bull owned by Harvey and Jane Cutler. The lawsuit states the Cutlers’ dog, named Buddy, was “unleashed and running loose.”

Klatch was thrown from the cart and bitten as he tried unsuccessfully to save his dog, according to the lawsuit. He died April 21, 2009, as a result of the injuries, according to the family’s attorney.

In Cascades at St. Lucie West, the board and manager allegedly failed to take owners to task for having overweight dogs off leash in the community. If the association and/or manager were in the process of addressing Mr. Cutler’s violation and have letters to demonstrate their intention to enforce the restriction, it could make a difference in the outcome of this litigation.


  1. The son and widow are correct in suing both the dogs owners and the homeowners assn for negligence. As residents, we depend on the HOA to enforce the rules. We also depend on the police and our neighbors to ensure a safe neighborhood. Finally, if we must buy a gun to protect ourselves from rogue dogs or gangsters, then we must do that too. I walk alone at night and have often encountered barking, aggressive dogs on the loose without an owner in sight. It makes me angry. Or an owner in their pajamas helplessly to calling the dog - who pays no attention. How sad they will be when I am forced to kill their pet right in front of them someday. grrrr

    Honestly, HOAs can sent letters to residents who violate the rules, but if the residents do nothing, the HOA is forced to consider whether legal action is worth the cost involved. We live in an increasingly lawless society with less and less money available to combat the lawbreakers. I would like to see pit bulls and other large dogs banned as pets - with jail time to violators.

  2. This is going to be an interesting one to watch for. Hope you will give us an update with regards to this.

  3. What happened to the st. Lucie man attacked by the pit bull was truly tragic and avoidable. As a dog owner I can attest to the fact that it is difficult to defend yourself and your dog when approached by an unleashed dog.
    As a Fort Lauderdale Condo Attorney that represents owners I have tried to help pet owners faced with various association pet restrictions like the ones cited in your post. I am curious if you have ever seen an association pet restriction dealing with pet weight limits successfully applied to emotional support and service animals? The typical response I get from the association is that they will make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals and service animals as long as they are within the weight limits prescribed in the declaration. The response I usually make is that association pet restrictions do not apply to emotional support animals and service animals.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the issue.

    Herb Milgrim, Esquire

  4. Herb,
    It is an interesting question. I am not aware of a weight restriction for a service animal being challenged in court in Florida. I would suggest that the reasonableness of the accommodation is tied to the type of work being performed by the service animal. Mostly large breed dogs are trained for sight, hearing and mobility impairments. As such, I am not confident a weight restriction would hold up for those kinds of disabilities. However, I am similarly not confident that a person requesting a dog for an emotional disability needs a St. Bernard rather than a Yorkie. Again, it will boil down to what constitutes a reasonable accommodation.