Trayvon Martin tragedy in Central Florida HOA highlights need to know what association volunteers are doing!

March 21, 2012 by David C. Swedelson

Blog post by SwedelsonGottlieb Partner David Swedelson, Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney

Interesting and thought provoking article by Florida community association attorney Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. that addresses an issue that many of us have thought about, namely a community association's responsibility for volunteer Community Watch members as well as for the acts of other association volunteers. Follow this link to read the article.

For those that do not know the story, Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old kid was shot and killed by on February 26, 2012 by a volunteer Captain of the Neighborhood Watch in a gated Orlando, Florida community association.

As Donna reports, “the 28-year old volunteer, George Zimmerman, had apparently wanted to be a police officer at one time but that career never became a reality. While the coverage on this case has been constant, one issue that is not being discussed yet is what relationship the Homeowners' Association had to this Neighborhood Watch and to Zimmerman in particular.”

The question is whether there will any civil actions filed against the association for what Zimmerman did (assuming that what he did was wrong, and that seems to be what the facts suggest).

Why is this an important issue to consider? As Donna states in her article: “Many communities have volunteers that perform certain functions, including grounds beautification and planning social events. However, the kind of volunteer security detail involved in this case creates all sorts of concerns and potential for liability.
In the Martin case, some questions for the HOA Board might be:
• Did the board request the creation of this Neighborhood Watch?
• Did the board appoint the volunteers?
• Was the board kept apprised of the Neighborhood Watch's activities?
• Did the board know that Zimmerman and perhaps other members of the Neighborhood Watch were patrolling the community armed?
• Did the board screen any of the volunteers including Zimmerman to determine that they were mentally and physically fit to serve this function?”

Donna points out that “[t]his tragedy is a cautionary tale for other associations out there.” And the issues that are raised by this tragedy are not limited to Community Watch and physical harm to another person. There are acts by volunteers that can or could cause damage to property and/or the loss of money. One big question is whether there is any insurance coverage for these acts “[s]ince many volunteers are not directors, officers or employees of the association... While the Martin case deals with life and death, there are other cases where community volunteers exposed an association to discrimination and harassment claims.”

Does your community association have volunteers? Does your association promote and support a community watch group or other types of volunteer groups? If so, the board needs to keep tabs on what these volunteers are doing and check on insurance coverage in case what they do leads to a lawsuit against the association.

Have questions on association liability for volunteers? Looking for advice on how to limit the association's exposure to lawsuits and liability for the acts of association volunteers? Contact David Swedelson via email: dcs@sghoalaw.com