By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Silver Shores Master Association, Miramar, Florida and KW Property Management recently reached a $5 million settlement agreement with Plaintiff Patricia Young, a former resident of the condominium association in Broward County.
According to Local 10 News and other sources linked below, Young was stepping outside to her back yard one day in 2015, when a poisonous water moccasin bit her toe. The reptile had been hiding in the track of her sliding glass door.
Water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths, release poisonous venom when they bite. Young could have died from the snake bite, but she was rushed to the hospital for treatment and survived.
Unfortunately, Young’s injuries led to a series of four amputations, which ultimately left the 37-year old woman with one leg amputated below the knee. The injured victim sued the HOA and management company in 2016.
Attorneys for the Plaintiff, Brent Reitman and partner Joseph Slama, argued that Young and many other residents of the Silver Shores community complained to the Master Association and management company about the presence of aggressive snakes, but no action was taken to control the problem or inform owners and residents of the threat.
The condo association (HOA) is responsible for maintaining a wetland preserve area located within a few feet of residences. Poisonous snakes thrive in the nature preserve, as documented by a University of Florida study. Researchers observed that encounters with water moccasins in Silver Shores were 8.6 time greater than such encounters in the Everglades.
Not surprisingly, the condo association and management company were clueless as to how to control the wildlife threat to homeowners and residents. So they reportedly did nothing.
For about two years, four insurance companies engaged in a legal battle to decide which parties were obligated to pay a settlement in Young’s personal injury liability claim.
The $5 million settlement was reached in February 2018, and, according to reports, Silver Shores Master Association and KW Management will share liability.
Young has since relocate to Washington state.
Silver Shores web page provides limited public information. It appears that many of the homes are inhabited by tenants with lease agreements.
KW Property Management has not admitted any wrongdoing, stating that the HOA is limited as to actions it can take to control snakes in the undeveloped preserve.
No doubt that insurance premiums will now increase for Silver Shores HOA, and other associations with similar risk exposure.
Personal injury, HOA lawsuit, and financial liability could have been prevented
The news of this $5 million HOA legal settlement brings up several important factors.
First, why do local governments continue to allow residential development in such close proximity to wetlands (swamps), and then assign uneducated volunteer property owners the responsibility of being stewards of natural resources? Is it fair to expect homeowners to know how to handle, much less prevent, dangerous wildlife encounters?
Second, why aren’t prospective residents (not just homeowners, but also non-owners such as tenants) warned of the dangers of living practically on top of the habitat of poisonous snakes, not to mention other reptiles or animals that pose nuisances or safety hazards to humans?
Who should warn residents about potential wildlife threats?
Let’s use some common sense. There are plenty of reasons why threats to public health and safety are not routinely disclosed to housing consumers. Silver Shores is just one example of a planned residential community that faces the challenge of owning and maintaining a natural preserve, a responsibility that comes with huge legal liabilities.
Consider the following:
If an HOA warns potential future residents about the presence of dangerous wildlife or any other threat to health or safety, how many will decide against moving into a home in that community?
If the HOA warns its current residents, how many of them will choose to move out — particularly tenants, since they can more easily relocate than homeowners?
If a developer is obligated to warn home buyers about snakes and other unpleasant realities of living near an undeveloped wetland preserve, how many buyers will walk away from a sale?
And if the local government turns a blind eye to health and safety threats, why would home builders or HOAs go out of their way to jeopardize home sales, lease agreements, and property values?
The huge insurance exposure, legal liabilities of Silver Shores Master Association and KW Property Management, and human suffering of residents, especially Patricia Young, could have been avoided, if only local government leaders in Broward County and Miramar had chosen to deny development permits on the site.
It’s as simple as that.
Miramar homeowners association pays up after woman loses leg to snake bite
Homeowners association pays $5 million to victim