Q&A: Determining Guidelines to Prevent Liability

Q Our condo building has a lot attached with parking for six cars. On the far side of the lot is an in-ground pool. We have a member who has requested to use the parking lot (and pool) for a party. Cars will be coming in and out during the party, so while I don't want to be unreasonable, I feel it's dangerous to have people in the same area. Are there any guidelines about this issue that might help our condo association come to an agreement on this issue?”

—--Concerned About Liability

A “A questioner has advised that the condominium association has an in-ground pool. Next to the in-ground pool is a lot that houses six parking spaces for cars. Presumably a member of the association wishes to use this lot and the swimming pool for a private party. The questioner is concerned that people might get hurt because the lot is used for parking cars and cars will be ‘coming in and out’ during the party.

“What is an association to do?” asks Attorney Stuart Lieberman of the Princeton-based law firm of Lieberman and Blecher. “Presumably the property in question is condominium association property. This means that it is a common element and that it is owned by every member of the association in an undivided manner.

“A condominium association has a duty to ensure that its property is used in a safe fashion and that persons are not subject to an unreasonable level of risk by using the property. This obligation to insure that property is used safely in most jurisdictions applies not just to members of the Association but also to persons invited association members.

“If using this property for the purpose of hosting a private party will unreasonably subject the guests to harm because of oncoming traffic, and if such harm is reasonably foreseeable, then the association might very well be liable in court if an accident does occur and in particular if someone does become hurt.

“While it is correct that the association presumably has insurance for the common elements, an obvious misuse of the common elements may force the association into a fight with the insurance carrier in the unfortunate event that someone is injured and a claim is filed. Moreover, while it is very unlikely even the officers of the association and its employees could be held liable if the decision to allow the party was thoughtless and woefully imprudent.

“The questioner states that he or she does not want to be “unreasonable” but is concerned about the likelihood of injury from this proposed use. That concern is far from unreasonable. We are in a very litigious world in which lawsuits have become the rule rather than the exception.”

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