Condominiums are extremely popular across Florida, especially in South Florida. Since Florida is the third highest populated state in the country, the need for housing struggles to keep up with demand. Traditionally, condominiums in Florida were home to retirees who wanted to avoid the responsibility and loneliness of a single-family home for the protection and prestige that many buildings provide.
During the housing boom hundreds of glass and concrete towers sprung up seemingly overnight across South Florida. When the market turned, it had a devastating effect on the condo market leaving dozens of half financed unoccupied towers in prime locations. As a result many high-end condominiums began renting out units at below market value.
Condominiums are run by homeowner associations. In Florida, homeowner associations are formal corporations operating under strict rules and bylaws. Florida Statute §718 details the rights and obligations of condo associations and requires that the unit owners be shareholders or member of the association.
Perhaps the most common claim against a condominium in Florida is for an accidental slip-and-fall in the common area. The members of the association have a fiduciary relationship to the unit owners and are responsible for maintaining the common areas – among other things. Common areas are locations in the building, lobby, parking lot, elevators, stairwells or pools that the homeowner’s association is responsible for inspecting, cleaning and maintaining in a reasonably safe and serviceable condition.
Often times, the homeowner’s association hires an independent company to manage the property. Sometimes the management company will then hire additional independent contractors to perform commercial landscaping and security guard services. Even when a homeowner’s association contracts this responsibility to a third-party, they are still responsible for any negligence.
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We recently successfully settled a personal injury case for a child that was severely burned when she inadvertently stepped on a hot metal landscaping cover at her parent’s Miami Beach luxury condominium. In that case, the condo’s homeowners association hired an outside company to maintain and clean the pool area.
We have represented thousands of clients who were visitors, employees and unit owners in condominium accident cases. Often when a unit owner is injured, it enrages their neighbors who are concerned that the claim may increase the association fees.
Take the case of Celeste Wieder versus King Cole Condominium. Ms. Wieder is not our client, but one afternoon while walking her dog, she tripped and fell down in a condo hallway on buckling carpet in the common area. The carpet was known by the King Cole Condominium association to buckle whenever it was cleaned or was wet. As a result of her fall she sued the association.
The record is clear that the association was aware of the carpet buckling problem; but never did anything to remedy it. In fact, Ms. Wieder herself as well a “multiple other residents” had complained about the condition before the day she fell.
In response to her law suit, the condo association argued that since Ms. Wieder herself knew of the buckling carpet, the dangerous condition was “open and obvious” and therefore they should not be responsible for her fall. The case was dismissed on a motion for summary judgment by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely.
Ms. Wieder appealed to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal which reversed the dismissal and found that even though Ms. Wieder was apparently aware of the condition, the fact that the homeowner’s association also knew and did nothing to repair it should have been enough for it to anticipate that it created an unreasonable risk for harming residents. Therefore, the Court ordered that the case should proceed to a jury.
This is an important decision for anybody claiming an injury at a Miami Beach condo. It stands for the proposition that even an obviously dangerous condition, such as bunched up carpet, does not relieve a condominium association from the responsibility to repair it. according to this case, landowner’s have no duty to warn when there is an “open and obvious” condition. However, this does not alleviate a landlord’s duty to repair the condition.
I hope this case motivates all property owners in Florida to properly maintain their premises. Condo associations must be held legally responsible for injuries caused by conditions that they knowingly refuse to repair. Hopefully, this decision will prevent others from getting into an accident at a Florida condominium.