Seminole Lakes Homeowner’s Ass’n, Inc. v. Esnard, 4D18-15, 2018 WL 6681726 (Fla. 4th DCA Dec. 19, 2018)
After they were hit in a rear-end car accident inside the Seminole Lakes Community, two plaintiffs sued the Seminole Lakes Homeowners Association claiming that it negligently allowed parking on both sides of the streets, in violation of rules in the governing documents. The case proceeded to trial and a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, finding the driver who hit them 70% responsible and the Association 30% responsible, for their injuries.
Florida’s Fourth District Court reviewed the case and in a somewhat surprising reversal of the type of decision that is typically left to the trier of fact, ruled in favor of the Association. The Court examined all of the evidence, including the lack of any prior incidents of a similar nature and the general conditions of the residential neighborhood and found that the negligence of the driver who rear-ended the plaintiffs was not reasonably foreseeable by the Homeowners Association and that the failure to enforce its parking rules accordingly was not the proximate (legal) cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.
While at first blush this case might seem to excuse community associations from liability for incidents for failing to enforce their rules and restrictions, its application may be limited as the Fourth District’s opinion was based upon the set of facts presented at trial to the jury. Community associations should remain mindful of restrictions in their governing documents, including those on dangerous dogs in on animal-free communities or parking restrictions necessary for ingress/egress of emergency vehicles. The courts may not be so forgiving of associations in other instances.