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Keven Moore on Insurance: How the Trayvon Martin tragedy affects you, your community
Posted on Jul 12th, 2013

Specifically, the horrific incident and the likelihood of a subsequent large civil lawsuit for wrongful death should serve as a wakeup call for all homeowners who are living in communities that operate homeowners’ associations and volunteer neighborhood watch programs. Zimmerman, who is charged in Martin’s death, was the head of a neighborhood watch group and claims he acted in self-defense.
[Neighborhood Watch Start Up Meeting Flyer]
This will have long-lasting effects that will stretch far beyond the talking heads and spin doctors on cable networks and news channels. By the time it all plays out, there very well may be several other additional unsuspecting victims that you won’t ever hear about, and these are the other people who happen to own a home in the very neighborhood in which Trayvon was killed.
Imagine that, as a homeowner, even though you never pulled the trigger or even knew George Zimmerman or any of your HOA officers or members in that neighborhood, you personally could be on the hook for the damages the Trayvon Martin family is seeking. There’s the possibility that you could even lose your home and all that you have invested in it.
How is that possible or even fair? How is that justice for Trayvon Martin, you may ask?
While it is impossible to predict how a judge or jury will rule on either a criminal or civil case, it is possible to differentiate the issues that will determine the potential end result, both legal and financial, for the HOA in that community, as well as for the residents. If George Zimmerman is convicted, then Pandora’s box swings wide open for a civil lawsuit — as the courts have previously held that HOAs are liable in wrongful-death cases.
So, the question remains: Are community associations and homeowners legally and financially responsible, directly or indirectly, for the actions of residents injured or killed — or whose actions harm or kill someone else — while performing neighborhood watch duties? The answer is yes, of course.
You and all the other homeowners are collectively responsible for your HOA’s financial obligations. So think about that the next time you receive a ballot to vote for your HOA officers. Wow, that changes everything, doesn’t it?
So, if the awarded damages exceed the HOA limits of liability on the insurance policy, you as a homeowner living in that community will be held personally responsible because the judge will consider every home in that HOA as collateral to cover the awarded damages.
In the past, HOAs have been found responsible for injuries or deaths that occur in the common areas due to everything from an uneven/buckled sidewalk, dark parking garages, swimming pools, maintenance work, playgrounds, fallen trees and countless other possibilities.
The legal fees to defend the homeowners in this community in Sanford, FLa., are likely to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars alone. In this case, the HOA’s commercial general liability insurance policy will more than likely end up covering the defense costs and the damages awarded, but usually that coverage limit is set at $1 million unless additional coverage was requested when the policy was enforced.
If the award exceeds the limits of the association’s policy it will then have to come out of a special assessment on the homeowners living in that community governed by the HOA. If the association attempts to declare bankruptcy, it will not sit well with a judge and probably will not be permissible.
As a homeowner, imagine what that would do for the resale of your home. If these assessed fees are still owed, even if you did try to sell your home, liens would restrict the sale of your home until you have paid off the Martin family and their team of attorneys. Depending on the size of the awards, you may see homeowners hand over the keys instead of being locked into paying the assessed fee.
So, how can you and your neighbors learn from this so that it never happens to you?
It’s important to understand that the only purpose of a homeowner’s association is to preserve and improve property values within the community by maintaining the common area and making sure that homeowners maintain the exterior of their home in good condition. A homeowner’s association’s purpose is not to prevent crime or assure one’s personal safety. Likewise, the point of a neighborhood watch program is not to catch criminals but instead to monitor and report suspicious activity to the local authorities.
If homeowners want to organize an independent watch group, the board should notify the local police department and invite its representative to meet with the organizers. But the board’s involvement should end there. The meeting should be organized and run by the local police representatives and group members, not by members of the HOA board. To safely distance themselves, the board should not direct, endorse or promote the watch group in any fashion.
Here are some additional basic rules to follow to limit the HOA and homeowners’ liability:
1. The neighborhood watch program should only be established with the help and guidance of the local law enforcement authorities.
2. There should be a clear separation between the association and the watch program and it should be regularly communicated on any HOA printed material.
3. The neighborhood watch program should not have any official connection to the homeowners association, nor should it be a committee of the Board members.
4. The neighborhood watch program should be an independent volunteer group that is not appointed, established or controlled by the HOA.
5. The neighborhood watch volunteers should not carry badges, be armed, wear uniforms or in any way imply they are sanctioned by the HOA.
6. Neighborhood watches should frequently reinforce the procedures set forth by the local authorities, including the do-not-engage rule.
If you live in Lexington and your neighborhood currently has or is looking to set up a neighborhood watch, I would further suggest contacting Lexington Division of Police at 859-258-3636. For additional information, click here.
Now with that, homeowners and condo owners do have options and can transfer this risk for a minimum cost by purchasing additional “loss assessment coverage” on their homeowner’s policy to better protect against additional loss assessment. Contact your insurance agent to see if this may already be included on your policy or if you can buy additional coverage which is usually inexpensive.
As I have always told my kids, this is a cruel and unfair world in which we live, so the sooner you get used to that fact, the better off you will be.
Be safe, my friends.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance ( He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at
Click here to read more columns from Keven Moore.