Can I Sue My HOA for Negligence?
Living in a planned community or condo has its advantages. However, you are at the mercy of the homeowners’ association (HOA) to keep the common areas maintained. Negligent repairs, or even outright turning a blind eye to serious hazards, can lead to injuries. If you're wondering can I sue my HOA for negligence read below.
Types of Accidents in Common Areas
Our clients are injured in different types of accidents, such as:
An unrepaired elevator stops suddenly or falls to the ground, injuring people.
Loose tiles or debris in the common areas lead to a slip and fall.
Uneven carpets or crumbling staircases cause you to trip and fall.
Dangerous wiring leads to electrocution or fires.
Hazardous gym equipment causes injury, like a treadmill that stops unexpectedly.
An improperly maintained swimming pool or hot tub causes a near-drowning incident.
In extreme cases, problems with HOA maintenance will lead to a fire in the building, which could end up destroying your unit. You might lose everything due to shoddy electrical work or malfunctioning air conditioners.
Elements of a Claim Against an HOA
In many ways, your HOA is no different than any other property owner whose neglect leads to injury. You can sue them if you establish the four elements of a negligence claim.
You need to show that the HOA had a duty to maintain the common area. Dig out your copy of the HOA’s governing documents. These might be called bylaws, declarations, or the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R’s). This document lays out in detail the HOA’s responsibilities to the community.
Make sure the HOA has responsibility for the area where you were injured. For example, if you fell in your neighbor’s condo, that is not the HOA’s responsibility (probably). But if you were injured on the lawn, a golf course, or a tennis court, then you could possibly sue.
Also check to see the scope of the HOA’s duty to maintain the area. For example, they might have responsibility for a golf course. But they might not accept responsibility for injuries caused by golf carts that other community residents own.
Breach of a Duty
The HOA must act with reasonable care when it undertakes its responsibilities. When it falls short of this duty, the legal term is a “breach.”
An HOA can breach a duty by failing to perform necessary maintenance. For example, the HOA might have responsibility for clearing the driveway and sidewalks. After a freak freezing rainstorm in January, they might fail to put down any sand or ice melt. Consequently, you slip and fall, breaking your arm. In this example, an HOA completely breached its duty by failing to act.
An HOA also must perform its duties with reasonable care. For example, the HOA might install wooden stairs to lead down to the beach. If they construct them in a shoddy manner, then they are negligent if you fall and hurt yourself.
You need to connect the HOA’s carelessness to your accident and injuries. This is usually pretty clear—but not always. Imagine you slipped and fell after a rainstorm. You might blame the HOA for not clearing the walkway. But imagine that they had—only to have someone empty a cup of water on the walkway on their way to their car. In this example, the HOA’s negligence isn’t to blame, so they did not cause your injuries.
A thorough investigation is necessary to show causation. This is one reason to hire an Aiken, SC personal injury lawyer to represent you.
You can sue if you suffered some loss due to your accident, usually financial loss. Needing medical care to treat injuries qualifies as damages for a lawsuit. Other damages include lost income if you had to miss work to recover from the accident.
How to Proceed with Your Claim
If you were hurt and suspect the HOA is to blame, you should take the following steps to really strengthen your claim for compensation:
First, document as best you can the hazards which led to your injury. If a loose tile caused you to slip, then get a photograph. At a minimum, try to have witnesses who can testify that the condition existed. You don’t want the HOA to quickly fix the problem and then claim it didn’t really exist.
Second, seek prompt medical care and do everything your doctor prescribes. Hold onto your medical bills and receipts, which can show how much your injuries are costing you.
Third, schedule a meeting with a personal injury lawyer. An attorney can provide a general overview of whether you have a possible claim. Sometimes, more investigation is necessary. But a lawyer can tell you what you need to do.
Should You Settle a Claim with Your HOA?
Many accident victims are tempted to quickly settle. After all, they probably know the people on the HOA board, who are your neighbors and possibly friends. No one likes the stress and tension that comes with a lawsuit.
You might even be under pressure to settle for a low amount so that the HOA doesn’t have to raise its fees on all residents. Unfortunately, the amount the HOA offers to settle your claim is probably far too low.
Remember, your HOA should have insurance to cover accidents like this one. The HOA also needs to do a better job fulfilling their many responsibilities. It might be time to put someone new on the Board so that you get proper maintenance in your community.
Instead of settling quickly, reach out to a personal injury attorney. Your premises liability attorney can review any proposed settlement. You should get as much as you can now, because you won’t get a second chance to get more.
Call Us Today
Surasky Law understands how HOA boards operate. Often, they try to pass the buck and blame someone else for letting the property deteriorate. Our law firm has the experience necessary to seek compensation, either in negotiations or bringing a lawsuit. Let us handle the board and its insurance agent. You focus on getting well.
To schedule a consultation, call Surasky Law today.