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Condo | HOA Lawyers

Association Not Liable for Injuries from Accident on Owner’s Lot

Facts

Michael Reddick filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his parents (the owners of the property where he lived) and the neighbor in 2017.  Reddick alleged that his wife fell off an unguarded three-foot high retaining wall on the night of December 30, 2016, while walking her dog, causing her death.  The wall was owned by the neighbor.  The wall was two to four inches from the Reddick property.  The Association never installed or maintained any lights on either the Reddick’s or the neighbor’s property or any other homeowner’s private property.  The members of the Association had discussed the sufficiency of the street lighting in the subdivision during meetings for more than four decades.  The Association installed and maintained five streetlights in the subdivision at or near the subdivision entrance on common grounds.

Trial Court

In 2018, Reddick filed suit naming the Association, neighbor, and others.  Reddick claimed the Association was negligent by failing to adequately light the subdivision after it had assumed responsibility for providing lighting.  “The Association denied that it had a duty to light the area where the decedent fell because it did not own the retaining wall or property in the area.  The Association also denied that it assumed a duty to provide lighting throughout the entire subdivision…”  The Association filed a motion for summary judgment.  In response to the trial court motion for summary Reddick submitted “an industry publication called The Lighting Handbookclaiming it to be the definitive guide for the sufficiency of lighting and that the Association failed to meet this standard.  The Association objected to and moved to strike this submission as “irrelevant and immaterial” to whether the Association had the duty to provide lighting in the first place.  The court granted the Association’s motion for summary judgment and Reddick appealed.

Appellate Court Decision

Reddick argued that the Association either “owed a duty to adequately light the subdivision or it assumed such a duty.”  The Appellate found that The Lighting Handbook submission merely begged “the primary question of whether the Association owed a duty to adequately light the entire subdivision …”  The court held that the Association had no such duty, in part because Reddick’s analogy to other landlord cases did not apply when the Association had “no control over the private property on which the decedent fell.”  The court found that the Association 1) “had no common law duty to adequately light the private property where the decedent fell,” and 2) the Association was not liable merely because it discussed “lighting the subdivision and installing five streetlights in common areas…”  Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s order.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  1. Just because someone is injured, even if severely injured, does not mean that it was someone else’s fault;
  2. Boards of associations are required to protect their owners, including from suits that would otherwise drain the funds of the association (of course deciding which will be more expensive – defending the suit or paying a claim – is often difficult and requires the advice of an experienced attorney); and
  3. In lawsuits, regardless of how good you might think your case is, there are always unexpected events, and the outcome is never certain.

Reddick v. Spring Lake Estates Homeowner’s Association, No. ED109672 (Mo. Ct. App. May 17, 2022) 

 

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