Dog Bites in HOA Common Areas…Who’s to Blame?
Years ago, most States practiced what is commonly called “One Bite” laws regarding dog bites. In essence this law allows the owner of a dog one “free” dog bite incident before the owner of a certain dog was held legally liable for the actions of their pet.
As years passed and dog bites became more common, probably because of the increase in population in urban areas, some States began practicing “strict liability” in dog bite cases. Strict liability means that the owner of a dog is implicitly liable for their pets’ actions regardless of the circumstances, if the victim of the bite was legally allowed to be in the place where the bite occurred and there is evidence that the victim did not provoke the dog.
When it comes to dog bites that occur on City or State run land or private property, the liability is fairly straight forward. But what if the dog bite occurs in your HOA’s common area? Would the Association be held liable for damages?
The answer is; it depends! If a dog bite ever occurs on HOA common area, the likelihood of the Association being named in a law suit would probably come down to whether the owner of the dog was properly insured against a bite incident and whether the owner of the pet can be determined and or found.
What can you, as a Board Member, do to make sure that your Association is protected if a dog bite ever occurs in your community’s common area?
• Know the law! Make sure that you and other Board Members are up to date on current dog bite laws for your State. Your Community Manager can help you research this issue and if necessary, you can always call an HOA attorney who can help interpret the law for the Board.
• Check your insurance coverage to see what language, if any, it has regarding dog bites that occur in common areas. If your insurance coverage does not include dog bites, ask your Community Manager to speak to your insurance provider about your options.
• Communicate the rules regarding pets in common areas to the residents of your community in several different ways. If the Board sends out a newsletter to residents, make sure that it contains reminders about pets in common areas in more than one issue a year. If the Association has a website, add an area to post the rules and restrictions for pets. It’s also a very good idea to post signs in common areas, reminding residents to keep their pets on a leash or others pet reminders that pertain to your community.
Preparation is the key to keeping your Association covered in the advent that a dog bite does occur in common areas. Contact HOAMCO today with any questions about this information.
*Laws about dog bites in public places and who is liable for them differ from State to State. This article contains general information not intended to be taken as legal advice. If your Association is currently dealing with a dog bite that has occurred on common area, we encourage you to seek the advice of a qualified HOA attorney in your area.
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