Board members unlikely to be liable for auto accidents in community

By the time you read this week’s column, most of the condominium, HOA and cooperative communities in Florida will have assessed their damage from Hurricane Irma, and nearly everyone will have some type of loss at their property — whether it’s simply landscaping damage, or more serious issues with roofs and mechanical equipment. I strongly recommend that you allow your attorney to review all significant contracts. The moderate amount of money that you will spend in attorney time will more than cover itself in the event of a dispute over a large contract.

Many boards or managers will be tempted to enter into quick emergency contracts for large items (particularly roofing repairs), and they may sign a contract without any legal review — only to find down the road that they have very few rights and remedies in the event that a contractor skips out with their deposit, or simply does not do acceptable work. It will cost far more to fight over a bad contract later on than to pay your lawyer to make sure you start with a good contract in the first place.

Question: We live in a large senior community governed by an HOA. The board of directors has suddenly decided that they are personally responsible for auto accidents in our community, and they want to spend upwards of $30,000 to add traffic monitoring devices and/or speed reduction devices (such as humps) in an effort to prevent accidents.

We have had approximately six accidents in the 15 years of our community’s existence — all due to driver negligence. Our main road is clearly marked in several places with a 30 mph speed limit. All side streets have stop signs prior to entering our main road.

Many of us are confused as to how the HOA board would be personally liable for accidents caused by a driver’s negligence, or why the board would think they may be liable. Certainly, it appears that the community has done its required diligence in making its rules and regulations obvious to drivers. — S.G.

Answer: While I can’t comment on whether or not it would be a reasonable use of your association’s funds to add speed monitoring or restricting devices to reduce the risk of accidents, I can say that it is very unlikely that a board member would be found personally liable for an accident in the community. First, Chapter 617, the Florida Not For Profit Corporation Act, offers significant protections to directors and officers of many community associations.

Section 617.0834, Fla. Stat., provides that an officer or a director of certain types of not-for-profit corporations is not personally liable for monetary damages to any person for any action or failure to take action, unless the officer or director breached his or her duties to the association, and unless that breach was either a criminal violation, a transaction by which the officer or director derived an improper personal benefit, or an act that was reckless (an act in conscious disregard of a risk) or was committed in bad faith or with malicious purpose. In addition, there is case law in Florida stating that, absent fraud, self-dealing or betrayal of trust, directors of associations are not personally liable for the decisions they make in their capacity as directors.

Also, your homeowner’s association likely carries directors and officers insurance to help cover the costs of defending a lawsuit brought against the directors as individuals, and the directors would also be entitled to certain types of indemnity from the association.

For all of these reasons, it doesn’t make sense to add speed-reduction devices simply out of a fear for personal liability. Instead, if the board wants to add speed-reduction devices, it should do so simply because it feels that’s what’s best for the community. Note that speed humps might very well be considered material alterations, and so you should check your governing documents to see if material alterations must first be approved by the membership. Also, many communities limit the ability of the board to spend money on capital improvements without a membership vote.

Ryan Poliakoff is a co-author of “New Neighborhoods — The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-Op and HOA Living” and a partner at Backer Aboud Poliakoff & Foelster, LLP. Email questions to Please include your hometown.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in

State will not ‘take over’ a condominium association or HOA

Question: What is the legal standard for the state to intervene and take over an HOA? What is the procedure to initiate the state to investigate an HOA? — P.K. Answer: The state does not take over any association, whether it is an HOA, condominium or cooperative. While the Division of Florida Condominiums does have some jurisdiction with respect...
County jobless rate slips to 3.7 percent, continuing ‘healthy’ trend
County jobless rate slips to 3.7 percent, continuing ‘healthy’ trend

Stock market gyrations and the threat of trade wars may rumble in the distance, but job numbers maintain a healthy glow. Palm Beach County’s jobless rate fell to 3.7 percent in February, down from 4 percent the month before, beating state and U.S. numbers in a trend that has faced little disruption outside of Hurricane Irma last fall, officials...
Palm Beach International Boat Show opens with new things under the sun
Palm Beach International Boat Show opens with new things under the sun

Weather that organizers welcomed as “magnificent” kicked off the 33rd annual Palm Beach International Boat Show Thursday with more than 1,100 boats and products on display and some 40,000 people expected to attend over four days. But the sun, in a crisp blue sky on a 69-degree day, provided more than a pleasant backdrop for Michael Kohler...
FTC: $10 million in refunds on the way in Boca tech support case

Federal officials said this week they are ready to mail more than 36,000 checks totaling more than $10 million in a case involving a Boca Raton tech support company. The money comes from a settlement with Inbound Call Experts LLC, doing business as Advanced Tech Support, and other defendants. The Federal Trade Commission called it a scam that used...
Become a rent-a-friend? 6 under-the-radar ways to make some extra cash
Become a rent-a-friend? 6 under-the-radar ways to make some extra cash

Need some extra cash or an ongoing side hustle? It can pay (literally) to get a little creative. In fact, in today's inventive economy, it can pay even more if you go beyond "creative" and into the realm of pretty weird. Still, as long as they're legal (and the following suggestions are), what does it hurt to bring home the bucks in an odd...
More Stories