Is the homeowners' association liable in the Trayvon Martin case?

Trayvon Martin supporters march through the historically African American community of Goldsboro on their way to an NAACP rally in front of the Sanford Police Department on March 31, 2012 in Sanford, Fla.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Homeowners who live in the gated community in Florida where Trayvon Martin was killed could face a lawsuit over how the neighborhood watch program was conducted.

Donna DiMaggio Berger is a partner at Katzman, Garfinkel and Berger in Florida. Good morning Donna.

Donna DiMaggio Berger: Good morning Stacey.

Vanek Smith: Donna, explain if you will why a homeowners' association might be liable in a case like this?

Berger: Well, I think first of all, a homeowners' association might find itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit, Stacey. What we like to tell our clients is basically if anything occurs within the boundaries of that community, chances are that the plaintiffs will add the association at some point to an action. That doesn't mean, however, that the association will not ultimately be dismissed from that action and/or not found liable.

Vanek Smith: Right. What is the basis of the potential case here? Why would they potentially be liable in this case?

Berger: Well in this case, it will all depend on the amount of connection the association had in setting up the neighborhood watch, whether or not they personally selected George Zimmerman, whether any due diligence was done on Zimmerman's background. This is not to say that associations should not use volunteers in the community. It does mean that communities who are considering using volunteers should discuss these issues ahead of time.

Vanek Smith: Where would the money come from in a case like this? How much money would a homeowners' association have? Would the individual homeowners be potentially liable?

Berger: It all depends, Stacey, on whether or not there's insurance coverage. If there's not insurance coverage in place and the association is found liable and the plaintiffs obtain a judgment, then yes, that judgment can be collected against amounts that the association may have in their operating account, in their reserve accounts, or worst case scenario, the homeowners can be hit with a special assessment to pay for it.

Vanek Smith: Donna DiMaggio Berger is a founding partner at the law firm of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger. Donna, thank you.

Berger: Thank you so much Stacey.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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