Wrongful Death Claims Against Home Owners Associations

Recent events in the media have raised several questions about the nature of gun control in communities and the responsibilities of a homeowners association regarding security. The wrongful death case of Trayvon Martin is just the best known of many. If security is implied to be part of the contract you enter into when you join a homeowners association, then it is expected that the association maintains the proper means and procedures necessary. Anything less could be considered “negligent security,” similar to if an individual had been injured or killed due to a lack of proper security checks before entering a building.

The Cause and Effect of Negligent Security

A Los Angeles woman filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2010 for exactly these reasons when her mother was stabbed just outside of her garage. In this instance, the homeowners association and the security company hired to provide area services were both made aware that the woman had a restraining order against her husband. The husband was known to be identifiable by his tattoos and was also a known source of danger. In the lawsuit, lawyers claim that the defendants had an obligation to provide a level of care regarding those who were admitted to a secure housing area, gated community, or any property where unauthorized visitors are not permitted.

To further understand the case, one needs to examine what negligent security is. Business owners, residential property owners, and commercial property owners all have an expectation of security when they enter into a contract with a security agency. Part of that security involves monitoring individuals who could prove to be dangerous and preventing entrance to those who are known threats. By either ignoring that task or failing to perform it properly, a security company and the parties that hire them may be liable for damages in cases where an individual who had an expectation of security is harmed by its failure.

The Trayvon Martin Case

In the case of the Trayvon Martin, a similar lawsuit had been filed by Martin's parents. The center of the case revolves around the wrongful death of Martin, who was allegedly shot by George Zimmerman in February 2012 while walking through a Florida neighborhood. While accounts of the shooting differ, the main point of contention is that the homeowners association had a responsibility to provide appropriate security to the neighborhood, particularly in Florida where the “Stand Your Ground” law could lead to situations of manslaughter, or in this instance, second-degree murder.

While the debate over whether or not the shooting was self-defense continues, the HOA involved has actually chosen to settle with Martin's parents. Attorneys involved with the settlement have made the provision that Martin's parents and his estate set aside their claim of wrongful death and claims for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and expenses. In return, the Martins will receive an undisclosed amount of financial compensation.

While a settlement is not necessarily an admission of guilt, it does present a compelling argument that in this instance the HOA was aware of their liability. It is likely that the attorneys representing the HOA recommended that a settlement was the best course of action. This leads one to conclude that negligent security could be an issue in further cases where a wrongful death or grievous injury occurs where the HOA is responsible for security. Although lawyers will continue to debate the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman in the criminal case, the settlement may inform legal decisions moving forward.