With Danny lurking out in the Atlantic, now is the time to dust off that disaster plan (hopefully there is one in place to dust off from past years) and review it and refresh your memories to make sure it is followed. Let’s face it; it has been ten years since a hurricane has affected South Florida. But don’t let your guard down. While this is predicted to be a less than active season (as it has shown so far) all it takes is one! We have discussed these items before in past years, but I thought now is as good a time as ever for a refresher post.
The coverages, limitations, exclusions and exceptions to exclusions buried in all those pages of property insurance policies can leave your head spinning when trying to make sense of it all. It can feel like trying to navigate through a complicated maze or fit all of the pieces of an intricate puzzle together without forcing them. This was demonstrated recently in a federal case from the Northern District of Florida, Bartram, LLC v. Landmark American Insurance Company, 2012 WL 1072207 (N.D. Fla. March 30, 2012).
Plan for the worst; hope for the best. This is an old adage that has taken shape in various places in the realm of planning. If you have really planned for the worst and given it thought, then the element of surprise is hopefully eliminated. The destructive impact of tornadoes in the Midwest and Texas cannot be understated. Residents of an apartment complex in Virginia Beach were surprised by when a plane crashed into their buildings; thankfully no one was hurt. Other areas of the country are on the verge of another hurricane and wildfire seasons.
Standing, as a legal concept, refers to the right to bring a lawsuit. To pursue a case as a party in court, a person or entity must show that it was sufficiently affected by the matter at hand. This is a general definition of the legal concept of “standing.” When condominium associations are involved, there is a legal concept known as “associational standing.”
There is a lot of litigation from Hurricane Wilma still proceeding in Florida state and federal courts. Much of that litigation has concerned whether the policyholders have complied with their post-loss duties to submit information, documentation and appear for examination under oath. During the last year or so, probably the heaviest litigated issue concerns whether the policyholder gave adequate notice of the loss to the insurer as required by policy terms. Insurers that raise such a defense are looking for a judgment on a technicality, and request the court to declare that they have no responsibility for any damages because the policyholder breached their duty to notify them of the loss.
Condominium association unit owners, boards of directors and property managers are often faced with questions of responsibility for losses due to water damage within association property and units. Water damage claims are likely one of the most common sources of damage in non-hurricane years in Florida. This problem is complicated by the maze of legal terms within the insurance requirements of Florida Statute §718.111(11).
I often find that I am writing on this blog about recent court cases involving condominium associations and their property insurance claims with insurers. For this week’s post, I began thinking of another side of potential insurance disputes that associations are faced with. These involve liability issues. Risk management is a big concern for associations and their representatives. Similarly for me, as a new parent, potential dangers are suddenly more visible all around. Many condominium and homeowner associations have playgrounds in their common areas. Playgrounds are nice community amenities, but they can pose certain risks. The ironic thing is that such leisure amenities are often the things that pose increased risks. If injuries occur, the association and its insurer could get sued.
The short answer to this question is yes, as long as the Declarations address it. A recent case decided January 6, 2012, by a Florida appellate court involved this issue, as well as the association’s claim for attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the lawsuit. Alorda v. Sutton Place Homeowners Association, Inc., No. 2D10–3966 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012).
Smoking poses obvious fire risks and insurance costs to association and apartment communities. In addition to the fire risks, there are certain health risks to community residents, as well as increased complaints from non-smoking residents. With the aim to not only prevent fires and reduce health problems, but also to increase property values, some boards are seeking to prevent unit owners and their guests from lighting up in their communities. It seems they have heeded the warnings of that famous icon, Smokey the Bear, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.”
From time to time certain legal buzz words seem to jump off the page when reading court cases. “Custodial contract” is one of those interesting legal terms that I recently came across in an opinion from the U.S. Middle District of Florida. Upon first glance, it seems that the term must relate to the area of family law and guardianship or, more literally, to a contract for janitorial services. But law, in its infinite wisdom, has a way of transcending beyond the norm. Custodial is defined as “of or relating to the work of guarding or maintaining” and “marked by care and supervision.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. The concept of a contractual relationship arising out of the factual circumstances and actions pursued by the parties is an interesting one. The “custodial contract” concept as it relates to condominium association and unit owners is one with slim discussion in Florida legal precedent… until a recent case.