Establish policies that focus on safety
Q: We are a homeowners association. We recently were sued by an owner who claimed that we were not enforcing the rules and regulations. We lost the case and were forced to require the homeowner to correct the violation. This brought up a question about the liability the president and directors have in such matters. Our pool is fenced and we have signs posted with limited hours — sunrise to sunset. Would we be faced with a lawsuit if someone drowned in the pool? Could we be faced with a large court settlement not covered by insurance? We have a liability insurance policy but wonder if we do not have the proper coverage?
A: Anyone can sue anyone for anything. You must take action to properly operate, maintain and document your actions. It would be impossible to establish programs to prevent all accidents but you must try. You must establish a working safety program to try to prevent accidents. This begins with your documents and how the board functions within these guidelines. Creating working policies and operational procedures is only the beginning.
I would suggest that you engage your insurance agent to help establish policies to reduce liability. Ask the agent if the insurance company will help provide an inspector. If not, then search for an engineer or property manager for help. I suggest that the board have a walking inspection of all the property each week or every other week. You can ask for members to volunteer for an inspection committee. Two or three members can walk the common areas and record on an inspection report any areas of concern such as a water pooling or cracks in sidewalks or at the pool where there may be a possible safety issue. The inspection committee can walk the streets and see if any owner is in violation of the rules.
If you have a manager, get the manager involved in regular inspections. It is not a case of being overly aggressive directors but a situation of trying to prevent accidents and enforcing the rules. The inspection report should be provided to the directors for their review and then critical items discussed at the next board meeting. The concern of drowning should be addressed to see if you can establish alternate plans to prevent this accident. The pool company and the county health department may help.