Are Homeowner Associations Responsible for Dog Attacks?
A homeowner association may be liable for a dog attack that occurs on its property. An attorney experienced in handling dog bite cases will consider HOA responsibility if the dog bite occurs on HOA property. The O’Hara Law Firm in Houston has successfully resolved cases against HOAs for clients who were members of an HOA and attacked on HOA common property. There are a variety of situations where a HOA could be found culpable for a dog bite.
Consider the following hypothetical. A member of the Fall Creek Home Owners Association is walking in the neighborhood. A dog escapes through a hole in the fence and attacks the member. The member suffers severe lacerations from the bite and undergoes emergency medical care for her injuries. As a result of the attack, the woman has permanent scarring and disfigurement.
The dog owner is at fault for allowing his dog to escape in violation of county ordinances. However, the HOA may be responsible as well. If the HOA received complaints about the same dog escaping on prior occasions, knew about the hole in the fence and did nothing to remedy the situation, the HOA likely failed to enforce its own bylaws and/or declarations. The HOA failed to act as a reasonably prudent HOA if it did not enforce its own rules and regulations. The HOA should have sent letters, possibly fined the homeowner and maybe even repaired the fence depending on the length of time the violation occurred. Under these circumstances the bite victim would have a colorable claim against the HOA.
Victims of Dog Attacks Because of HOA Negligence
The HOA would bear even more responsibility if the fence that the dog escaped from is under the management and control of the HOA. Instead of failing to enforce a rule against a homeowner, the HOA failed to repair and maintain property under its direct control. It is not uncommon for homeowner associations to be responsible for fences abutting the edge of the subdivision and/or common areas. In Forest Ridge Property Owners Association and Second Victorian Village Townhouse Corporation, homeowners were injured because the associations failed to maintain fences that were their responsibility to maintain and repair.
In both instances, pit bull mixes escaped from holes in the fences. The HOAs failed to adequately inspect the fences; and thus, the fences remained in disrepair for several months or longer before the victims were attacked. In both instances, the HOAs cited the homeowners for deed restriction violations unrelated to the fence, but never repaired the fences under the control of the HOAs. The HOAs were prompt in pointing out violations of homeowners, but were not prompt in maintaining fences that were the responsibility of the HOA and management company to maintain. In both instances, the pit bulls attacked women who were walking in the common areas. Both women were not able to escape from the attack without the assistance of family members nearby. If they had been alone, they might have died.
HOAs should take seriously complaints about loose dogs and/or aggressive dogs in the community. If an HOA ignores these complaints, it ignores them to its peril. A homeowner association has a duty to not only protect property values, but also the safety of its members. HOA board members all too often focus on property values without considering the importance of protecting the wellbeing and safety of the homeowners.
HOA boards routinely hire management companies to help them perform their duties. Often, these management companies perform routine inspections of homes for deed restriction violations, send out notices, aid with accounting and other matters. It is important that the board employ a competent management company. If the management company is negligent in performing its duties, ultimate liability will fall upon the HOA. The HOA is responsible for the conduct of the management company because it is the agent of the HOA.
HOAs often carry insurance to defend and indemnify them against negligence claims. If an HOA fails to obtain insurance, the entire association will be responsible for a judgment against the HOA. If the judgment is large enough, the board may have to issue a special assessment to all the homeowners to pay the judgment.
Important Actions to Take as HOA Members
A property owner should alert the HOA if a dog owner allows his dog to run loose or has a fence in disrepair that may allow a dog to escape. The notification will put the HOA on notice to enforce the deed restrictions and bylaws. If the HOA ignores the complaint and the dog later bites someone when it is loose, the HOA may have responsibility for the victim’s damages. Too often, neighbors of the dog owners are the victims. By notifying your HOA of a neighbor with a loose dog, you decrease the likelihood of being attacked by the dog, or at minimum, increase the chances of receiving compensation if you are injured by the dog.
Patrick O’Hara is an aggressive attorney in Houston that has experience handling a variety of dog bite cases. Lawyers in Texas routinely refer dog bite cases to Patrick O’Hara because of his experience and success representing dog bite victims. The O’Hara Law Firm represents clients on a contingency fee basis. Call us at 832-956-1138.