We all know that accidents happen, but in today's litigious environment, an accident or injury occurring on the grounds of your condo or townhouse community can lead to thousands of dollars in legal fees, court costs, and potential judgments, even if the incident is relatively minor.
When construction projects of any kind are underway, the chances for accidents and mishaps rise significantly; an association member might trip over a wayward piece of equipment, a poorly-placed piece of building material could fall and cause injury or property damage; the possibilities are vast. That's why it's vital for associations to understand at least the basics of contractor liability and where their legal responsibility intersects with that of the professionals they bring onto their property.
Not Always Cut-and-Dry
Say your association hires a landscaping firm to do some work on the community's grounds. In the course of the work, the cover on top of a water meter pit gets moved, and somehow doesn't get put back correctly. Some weeks later, some kids from the association are playing on the grounds, and one trips over the pit cover, injuring himself seriously enough to require medical attention. Since the landscapers moved the cover in the first place, they clearly bear sole responsibility for the child's injury, right?
Not necessarily. "In a situation like this, it's not as black and white as everyone would like it to be," explains Gerard Mazzara, property manager at Cedars at Basking Ridge in Bernards Township. "The association has a certain responsibility to ensure safety, and the landscaper has the responsibility to report such things to the manager, and the [utility company] installed the pit, so all three would be liable."
That's why it's important that condos and co-ops protect themselves by making sure that the contractors they hire are carrying the proper insurance. In a scenario like the one above, a large judgment could be awarded and an association would have to pay if they weren't covered.