Can I Sue My HOA for My Slip and Fall?
Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran
Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) are essential in maintaining the well-being and order of many residential communities. Their responsibilities span from the upkeep of common areas to enforcing community standards. However, if you experience an accident on the property, can you sue the HOA for a slip and fall?
Determining if the HOA is at fault and if you have legal grounds to sue requires knowledge of Michigan’s premises liability laws. Our slip and fall attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C., can review your case, identify negligence, and help you sue the HOA for slip and fall injuries.
What is an HOA?
A Homeowners’ Association, commonly called an HOA, is a private organization or entity typically established within a residential community or neighborhood. Its primary purpose is to manage and oversee the maintenance of the community’s common areas, shared amenities, and certain aspects of the residents’ properties.
As much as 14% of Michigan’s population has an HOA membership. HOAs are formed when a new housing development or community is created. Membership in the association is mandatory for all property owners within that community.
What Duties Do HOAs Have to Residents?
HOAs have several duties and responsibilities to residents, which fall under premises liability laws in Michigan. Premises liability refers to the legal obligation of an entity, such as an HOA, to ensure that its property is reasonably safe for residents and visitors.
Some of the responsibilities of HOAs include:
- Maintenance of common areas. HOAs are responsible for maintaining and managing common areas within the community, such as sidewalks, parking lots, recreational facilities, and landscaping. They have a duty to ensure these areas are kept in safe and functional condition. This includes regular inspections, repair, and maintenance of any hazards or defects.
- Safety and security. HOAs must take reasonable measures to provide a safe and secure environment within the community. This may involve implementing security measures like gated entry, surveillance systems, and proper lighting to deter criminal activity and enhance resident safety.
- Enforcement of rules and regulations. HOAs establish and enforce rules and regulations for the community. These rules often include guidelines for property maintenance and safety standards. By enforcing these rules, HOAs contribute to the community’s overall safety.
- Prompt response to hazards. When hazards or unsafe conditions are reported by residents or identified through inspections, HOAs must address them promptly. This includes repairing broken sidewalks, addressing uneven pavement, and fixing malfunctioning security gates, among other issues.
- Snow and ice removal. In Michigan, where snow and ice are common, HOAs are typically responsible for snow and ice removal from common areas, sidewalks, and roadways within the community. Failing to do so can lead to slip and fall accidents and serious injuries.
- Proper record keeping. HOAs must keep maintenance and repair
records and communicate with residents regarding safety concerns to ensure procedures are followed, and concerns are addressed.
- Insurance coverage. HOAs carry liability insurance coverage to compensate residents or visitors injured on the association’s property. Ensuring adequate insurance coverage is another duty of the HOA.
Common Injuries to Residents in HOA-Involved Slip and Fall Cases
Common injuries to residents in HOA-involved slip and fall cases often occur in areas the HOA is responsible for maintaining and keeping safe. These injuries can result from hazards and conditions within the community’s common areas.
- Sprains and fractures. Slip and falls can lead to sprained wrists, ankles, or knees and more serious fractures. Uneven pavement, poorly maintained walkways, or icy sidewalks in common areas are common causes of accidents.
- Contusions and bruises. Residents may suffer contusions and bruises from a fall caused by tripping over hazards such as cracks in the pavement, debris, or poorly placed signage.
- Head injuries. Slip and falls can result in head injuries, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). These injuries may occur when a resident falls on a hard surface due to inadequate lighting or slippery conditions.
- Back and spinal injuries. Falls in common areas with inadequate handrails or uneven surfaces can lead to back injuries, including strains, sprains, or more severe spinal injuries.
- Hip injuries. Hip fractures and injuries are common in slip and falls, especially among older residents. These injuries can be debilitating and may result from tripping over obstacles or hazards.
- Soft tissue injuries. Residents can suffer soft tissue injuries, such as muscle strains, ligament sprains, and contusions, when slipping and falling on common area surfaces that are improperly maintained.
- Cuts and abrasions. Slip and falls can lead to cuts and abrasions when residents come into contact with sharp objects or uneven surfaces in common areas, such as jagged pavement edges or broken fencing.
- Dislocations. Residents may experience joint dislocations, such as dislocated shoulders or knees, due to slip and fall accidents in areas where handrails or guardrails are missing or in disrepair.
- Psychological trauma. In addition to physical injuries, slip and falls can cause psychological trauma, leading to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a fear of using common areas.
- Long-term complications. Some slip and fall injuries may lead to long-term complications, including chronic pain, reduced mobility, and the need for ongoing medical treatment or rehabilitation.
When Would Your HOA Be Liable for Your Injuries?
HOA liability for injuries depends on whether the injury occurred in a private or common area. An HOA cannot be held responsible for accidents occurring on an individual’s private property within the community.
For instance, if you fall inside your home or on your driveway, it is outside the HOA’s responsibilities for common areas. In this case, it would not be liable, and you could not sue the HOA for a slip and fall.
However, if you trip over a poorly maintained walkway in the community park, which is a common area, the HOA could be liable as they are responsible for the upkeep of shared spaces.
What You Need to Prove in a Slip and Fall Lawsuit Against an HOA
Proving a slip and fall lawsuit against an HOA involves establishing several vital elements, including the duty of care owed by the HOA. It’s essential to understand that HOAs have a duty of care but are limited to certain areas and circumstances. Our attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can help you look for evidence to prove the following, allowing you to sue the HOA for slip and fall:
- Breach of duty. To establish liability, you must demonstrate that the HOA breached its duty of care. This means showing that the association failed to meet its obligations to maintain common areas in a reasonably safe condition.
For example, if the HOA neglected to repair a known hazard, such as a broken handrail in a common area stairwell, and this negligence led to your injury, they may be liable.
- Notice of hazards. Knowledge of a hazard is essential for liability. If the HOA knew or should have known about a dangerous condition in a common area but did not take reasonable steps to address it, they may be held liable. This could involve hazards like uneven walkways, inadequate lighting, or icy sidewalks.
- Proximate cause. To hold the HOA liable, you must establish a direct link, or proximate cause, between their negligence and your injury. You must show that the hazardous condition they failed to address was the immediate cause of your slip and fall.
- Causation. You must demonstrate that the HOA’s breach of duty was the actual cause of your injuries. This requires establishing that the slip and fall would not have occurred had the HOA fulfilled its responsibilities.
- Comparative negligence. If it’s determined that you contributed to your injury by acting recklessly or not paying attention to obvious dangers, your compensation may be reduced accordingly.
Michigan uses modified comparative negligence. You must be less than 50% responsible for your accident to receive compensation.
- HOA governing documents. HOAs often have governing documents, including bylaws and Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), which outline their responsibilities and the extent of their liability. These documents may affect the association’s liability in specific cases.
What Defenses Might the HOA Use Against Your Claim?
HOAs facing slip and fall claims often use various defenses to mitigate liability. These defenses can include legal principles, statutory limitations, or specific facts about the case. Understanding these defenses is essential to pursue a claim against an HOA. Some of the most common defenses are:
- Open and obvious hazard. The “open and obvious” defense argues that the hazard causing the slip and fall was so apparent and easily noticeable that a reasonable person should have been aware of it and taken precautions to avoid it.
While this has been a long-standing defense, a new Michigan court ruling in 2023 states that it is no longer a reason to dismiss a claim. Instead, if a hazard is open and obvious, it may factor into the comparative negligence analysis.
- Assumption of risk. This defense asserts that you willingly assumed the risk of injury by engaging in an activity or entering an area where the hazard was known or should have been reasonably anticipated. If you knew about the danger and proceeded anyway, the HOA may argue that you assumed responsibility for any resulting injuries.
- Statute of limitations. The statute of limitations in Michigan is 3 years from the date of injury, so it’s essential to file your lawsuit within the specified time frame. If you don’t meet this deadline, the HOA can have your case dismissed.
- Lack of constructive notice. Constructive notice means the HOA should have known about the hazard through reasonable inspections or maintenance procedures. If the HOA can demonstrate that they had no reasonable way of knowing about the dangerous condition, they may argue they cannot be held liable.
- Emergency or unforeseeable circumstances. In some cases, the HOA may claim that the slip and fall resulted from an unforeseeable emergency or an event outside of their control, making it unreasonable to expect them to have taken preventive measures.
- No breach of duty. The HOA may claim they did not breach their duty of care in maintaining the property. They might argue that they followed proper maintenance procedures, promptly addressed hazards, and fulfilled their obligations.
- Release or waiver agreements. If you signed a release or waiver agreement when moving into the community or using certain amenities, it could be used against you. The HOA may argue that you relinquish your right to hold them liable for injuries related to those areas or activities.
Why Having a Skilled Slip and Fall Attorney Can Help You Sue an HOA
Engaging a skilled slip and fall attorney is crucial when pursuing a lawsuit against an HOA. These cases can be complex, and HOAs have legal teams and insurance adjusters working to protect their interests.
Your attorney from Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can protect your rights and help you seek compensation with the following actions:
- Assessment of liability and damages. We will help you determine whether the HOA had a duty of care in the specific area where the incident occurred and whether their negligence directly contributed to your injuries. We can also evaluate the extent of your economic and non-economic damages.
- Investigation and evidence gathering. Our team can gather crucial evidence such as photographs, witness statements, maintenance records, and prior complaints about the hazard. This evidence is essential in establishing liability and the severity of your injuries.
- Expert witnesses. Expert witnesses may be needed to testify about maintenance standards, hazard analysis, or the extent of your injuries. We have a network of qualified experts we can call upon to strengthen your case.
- Negotiation Skills. Our attorneys can negotiate with the HOA’s legal representatives or insurance adjusters to reach a fair settlement that compensates you for your injuries and losses.
- Litigation experience. If negotiations fail to produce a satisfactory outcome, we are prepared to take your case to court. We have experience with litigation procedures, including filing motions, presenting evidence, and arguing your case before a judge and jury.
- Maximizing compensation. Our goal is to ensure you receive the maximum compensation you deserve. This includes damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and possibly exemplary damages if the HOA’s actions were particularly egregious.
Partner attorney and registered nurse Eileen Kroll can use her medical background to accurately assess your injuries, connect them to the accident, and negotiate a fair settlement for current and future losses.
Get the Help You Need with Strong Legal Representation
Suing an HOA for a slip and fall can be complicated. It’s beneficial to have an experienced lawyer to help you through it. Don’t bear the burden of medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering alone. Contact Cochran, Kroll & Associates to fight for your rights and help you sue an HOA for a slip and fall to pursue the settlement you deserve.
Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Call our law firm today at (1-866-779-7331) and schedule your no-obligation, free case evaluation.
Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.