Rob Samouce: Serving on a board of directors may be hazardous to your health

Just because you are protected by directors and officers liability insurance when you serve on a community association board of directors, and are therefore probably protected financially, does not mean you are protected physically. Once again the risk of physical danger from serving on a board was recently illustrated in a March 15 Associated Press article concerning a homeowners association in Santa Ana, Calif.

According to the article, Lucy Deabreu, a 78-year-old association official with the Dana Point homeowners association was treated for wounds received in a vicious assault allegedly carried out by a man who had a long-running dispute with the association.

Charles Mineo, 47, was booked into the Orange County jail on suspicion of attempted murder following the violence where authorities said Mineo choked and beat up Deabreu, leaving her bloody, battered and missing teeth. His bond was set at $800,000.

Mineo, an accountant, was having a dispute over an allegedly unauthorized five-foot add-on to his weekend getaway condominium in Dana Point.

According to an elderly Dana Point neighbor who had befriended Mineo after her 95-year-old husband died, Mineo was a caring man who was despondent over the recent death of his cat. Vera Oblatt told a reporter that "That poor boy, He just lost everything. I think he just cracked." She added that Mineo "is the last person I could ever believe could do such a thing."

Believe it or not, although physical violence in a community association between members and directors is rare, it does happen more often than one would think. Tempers can flare during rules and regulation enforcement actions or when strong disagreements between individuals are aired during membership or board meetings. Name calling and finger pointing can sometimes quickly turn into punches if a heated situation is not quickly defused. This can happen with some individuals even in communities that are upscale and dignified and does happen in Southwest Florida.

It is therefore important for authority figures in community associations, including officers, directors and management, to keep their antenna up when things appear they may get out of hand. Use techniques to put out the fire. Use of listening skills and giving acknowledgment (not agreement) of disgruntled concerns and letting the person know their concerns will be taken into consideration will usually work.

Sometimes walking away or adjourning a meeting prematurely may be in order and sometimes when it is known ahead of time that a meeting will be extremely contentious, the presence of security or police officers will be prudent.

Community association issues are not worth getting physically injured or killed about. Directors and officers do not get paid enough to risk such injury. It is therefore extremely important to keep meetings with, and between, residents under control.

Rob Samouce, a principal in the Naples law firm of Samouce, Murrell, & Gal, P.A. concentrates his legal practice in the areas of community associations (including condominium, cooperative and homeowners' associations), real estate transactions, general business law, estate planning, construction defect litigation and general civil litigation. This column is not based on specific legal advice to anyone and is based on principles subject to change from time to time. Those persons interested in specific legal advice on topics discussed in this column should consult competent legal counsel.

© 2004 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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