Community Association Tip of the Week – “Liability Awareness”

LIABILITY AWARENESS

 Insurance companies consider Apartments, Condominiums, hotels and motes as “habitational properties.”  Some of the significant property and liability risks they are vulnerable to are discussed below. These risks can be minimized with effective planning, sound risk management, regular inspections, maintenance and replacement of essential equipment and building systems.  Accidents and injuries are less frequent and costly when property owners have sound business strategies, attentive property managers and implementing effective inspections and maintenance.   

 Fire 

The majority of fires are caused by heating equipment, cooking, candles, grills, electrical wiring and smoking.  We recently reviewed the insurance portfolio of an association that suffered an $80,000 fire loss due to a candle in a window sill.  Regular inspections can help to identify and correct potential fire hazards. Smoke detectors should be installed in all the right places with fresh batteries replaced every six months and alarms replaced every ten years. 

 Water Damage

Roofs are an obvious source of leaks but leaks also develop in plumbing and appliances, especially in washing machines and water heaters.  Once again, regular inspections and maintenance programs can identify and correct leaks before they cause damage. 

 Slips and Falls   

Studies continue to show that slip-trip-and-falls are one of the leading, if not the number one, source of injuries, claims and insurance costs.    Within the category of falls, the second leading source of accidents (after uncarpeted floors) is falls on stairs steps and ramps.   Fifteen percent of all falls, and fourteen percent of all dollars paid were related to falls on stairs.    Remember, a fall on stairs can expose someone to greater than normal risk of serous head, face and neck injury.  This is because someone can roll slie and twist until they come to a stop.  Preventing these types of injuries should be a priority if this pertains to an Association.  

 All stairs should be built and maintained to Code.   Make sure all stairs on the property have tread depth and riser height uniformity, surfaces with slip resistance, easily gripped handrails at the proper height and length, contrast between flat walking suface and stair flight, and adequate lighting.    Even if stairs are up to Code, they must be maintained in a safe condition.   An increasing number of state courts are shifting the burden of proof in slip-and-fall cases.    It is important to document, perform routine inspections so HOA’s can prove it took reasonable precautions to keep all waking surfaces free from hazards.   

 Remember that if the stairs are not built or updated to code, the plaintiff may sue not only for their individual loss but for punitive or exemplary damages which are above and beyond the normal pain and suffering and are not covered by insurance. 

 Some other quick items of note that should be repaired quickly are:

  • Uneven or raised sidewalks
  • Sprinkler heads  causing sidewalks to become wet or form small puddles or that are too high and therefore a tripping hazard.     

Remember,  always review your liability limits and be sure you have adequate limits.  In addition to being   in compliance with civil code 1365.9,   you can pick up  additional $1,000,000 limits for a typical Association that can cost as little as $400.00 per  increment.  

 Final Note    to Associations with swimming pools, basketball/tennis/racquetball courts and similar amenities.  Throughout the years we have received literature that includes information of juries awarding damages that have far exceeded the limits Associations had in force.   Swimming pool deaths are just one example we have seen on several occasions.  We strongly recommend  considering  higher limits than what the CA Civil Code requires.   

 Sprinklers

Do the sprinklers come on for the correct amount of time?   Are there any raised sprinkler heads that someone can trip over?   Are any of the sprinklers causing sidewalks to form puddles?    Inspections can help to insure the sprinklers are opearting properly.

  Trees

Are any trees leaning or appear to be in danger of falling?     Are any tree roots staring to cause sidewalks or pavement to crack or raise up?    Are trees regualry trimmed to prevent limbs from falling?   

 Playground Equipment

Playground equipment must now conform to the highest safety standards which include local regulations for playgrounds and play equipment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety offers guidance for safe equipment, fall-cushioning material, and inspections online at  http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/325.pdf 

 Roofs

With the exception of tile,  it is good general rule of thumb to consider replacing roofs once they are 20+ years old.   Reserve studies will normally reflect the age of the roofs and how many years of useful life they have remaining.  If frequent repairs are being made; replacing the roof(s) may be more  cost effective   

 Fire Extinguishers

NFPA requires fire extinguishers to be installed on all types of occupancies and hazardous areas such as parking areas, laundry rooms, boiler rooms, etc. The size and location of the fire extinguishers depends on the hazard of occupancy. A Habitational type risk is considered as Light (Low) Hazard Occupancies. This requires a minimum 2-A rated fire extinguisher with 75-feet of travel or one per 3,000 square feet of area. Fire extinguishers should be readily available and visible for use on small incipient type fires. We have had this question on Condominium buildings several times before. If there are common areas such as interior hallways or multiple buildings with exterior common areas and parking areas fire extinguishers should be available. There are some condominium layouts that may not require fire extinguishers.   Please refer to www.nfpa.org for more information on Fire Extinguishers and how it may relate to your Association.

 Electrical/Plumbing

Associations built prior to 1976 may want to consider some of the following. 

  • Periodic Inspections and validation by a licensed electrical contractor constitutes an “update” when the wiring is of current technology.  Old technology wiring, which can create a significant fire risk, often requires replacement.  Seek evaluation from  a contractor and plan to upgrade to newer wiring.
  •  Look for corrosion in steel piping, older cast iron drains and waste piping and older copper piping.  

Swimming Pools

Must comply with all local health codes that address water quality, access control, rescue equipment, signage, etc.  As discussed in previous tips of the week must also now have an anti-vortex drain cover to be in compliance with Federal law (Virgina Graeme Baker Act) in December of 2007.

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