Did you know property owners can be held liable for not using reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions and to protect their guests from those conditions. Before you think I’ve taken off my conservation hat and hung out an attorney’s shingle, this scenario is relevant to our native wildlife. Not warning tenants, guests, or vacation renters about known wildlife activity and risks could potentially have very costly implications should an injury occur.
Likewise, a homeowners’ association (HOA) can have a similar liability as to properties under its control. Without appropriate education or policies, HOAs could be held liable for a native wildlife injury. And if the HOA liability insurance policy has exclusions from coverage or caps on claims for these incidents, homeowners can be responsible for making up the difference. That means a lawsuit could result in special assessments being levied on residents by the HOA to cover the additional costs – like those levied to pay for extensive hurricane recovery. And this isn’t a theory. An HOA and its property management company reached a $5 million settlement in a 2018 court case involving partial loss of a limb caused by native wildlife, in that case a venomous snake. Residents not being sufficiently warned about specific higher risks known on that HOA property posed by wildlife was a key factor in the decision.
Given that people have been injured by bears in Florida, it may be a good time to review policies for your HOA, business, or school and put educational programs and BearWise practices in place for both the safety of families, pets, and the wellbeing of bears – as well as the fiscal bottom line. How we handle our trash cans is one of the very most important.
To make all that easier, Naples Zoo created www.floridabear.org which offers boilerplate documents for your HOA to use along with an educational PowerPoint and other resources crafted by someone who has actually passed the bar.
There are similar resources to help with our other large native animal at www.thefloridapanther.org. Best yet, these sites also have resources to avoid conflict with native species in the first place. It’s the proverbial ounce of prevention to avoid paying for the pound of cure – and helps you to never look at an injured family member, neighbor, or dog wishing somebody would have done something. With these tools, you can be that somebody and provide this information to your HOA board
Naples Zoo’s Director of Conservation is a member of the state’s Bear Technical Assistance Group. Since 2014, Naples Zoo has invested over 3.5 million dollars in saving plants and animals in the wild and fully funds the annual salaries of 27 field staff in seven countries including two wildlife veterinarians. www.napleszoo.org/conserve