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What homeowners' association boards can do to avoid liability

Safety is a major concern for most California parents. Back on Feb. 27, this blog discussed the case of a teenager who suffered devastating and permanent injuries on a swing set in the common area of his HOA-run residential community ("Can HOA members trust the board to keep common areas safe?"). The question of whether homeowners' association boards can keep the common areas of a community safe bears further discussion since the HOA, and possibly the board's individual members, could end up facing litigation.

The family in the case involving the teenager received an award of around $20 million from a jury. That verdict and award were based on the fact that the HOA knew the swing set was a danger and failed to properly maintain it. The fact is that it could have involved any equipment in a community's common areas, and the outcome may have been the same. HOA boards have a duty to properly maintain and repair equipment in common areas.

As soon as a problem arises and the board is notified, it would be prudent to rectify the problem quickly and efficiently, especially if someone could suffer harm due to it. If necessary, access to the area should be restricted or denied until the problem can be corrected in order to minimize the potential for injury. Claiming not to know about a problem may not be enough of a defense since it may be reasonable to expect periodic inspections of the common areas, including any equipment used by residents.

If homeowners' association boards are unclear regarding their responsibilities in this area, it would be beneficial to gain an understanding of those duties under California law in order to avoid inadvertently breaching them. Not only could an oversight result in serious injuries to residents, including children, but it could also open up the board to legal liability. Being proactive could accomplish both tasks, but if an incident does occur, it may be a good idea not to take any action without discussing the matter with an attorney first.

Source: ocregister.com, "HOA Homefront: When it comes to playgrounds -- exercise or peril?", Kelly G. Richardson, March 31, 2018

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