The killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin may lead to civil lawsuits -- for which George Zimmerman and other homeowners in his gated community may eventually have to pay.
The homeowners association at the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Fla., where Martin was shot and killed, could face a possible lawsuit in connection with how its neighborhood watch program was conducted, a lawyer told the Orlando Sentinel.
"It's a cautionary tale for other associations," the lawyer, who specializes in homeowner-association law, said. Here's why:
Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman was patrolling the gated subdivision Feb. 26, when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claims the shooting was in self-defense, and was not arrested; a special prosecutor and a grand jury are set to consider charges.
Meantime, Trayvon Martin's family could file a civil wrongful-death lawsuit against the homeowners association, which established and operated the neighborhood watch program, the HOA lawyer told the Sentinel. Wrongful-death suits generally allege negligence or an intentional act led to a loved one's death.
If sued, HOA board members are generally covered by an "errors and omissions" insurance policy, the HOA lawyer said. But because a neighborhood watch program would not fall under that policy, the HOA "may wind up ... getting hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and damages," the lawyer said.
The Retreat at Twin Lakes' HOA -- comprised of nearly 200 townhome owners -- would likely have to make its members pay "special assessments" to cover a damage award. For example, in a wrongful-death lawsuit in South Florida in 2006, HOA members had to pay about $2,000 each to cover the judgment, the Sentinel reports.
The Retreat at Twin Lakes' homeowners association could also have taken steps to prevent the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the head of an HOA watchdog group told the Sentinel: "They should have ... disallowed members from running around with guns. If you don't put out guidelines, you are in deep doo-doo if something happens."
- HOA could be sued in Trayvon Martin civil suit (Tampa Bay's WTSP-TV)
- Homeowners Association Basics (FindLaw)
- Civil Cases vs. Criminal Cases - Key Differences (FindLaw)
- Can Trayvon's Family Sue Zimmerman in Civil Court? (FindLaw's Injured)