Article Courtesy of The
Daily Business Review
By Laura Manning-Hudson
Published February 25, 2019
Lack of parking can be an extremely troublesome issue for many South Florida
community associations. For HOAs with rules that prohibit on-street parking, the
dearth of available spaces for residents and their guests can leave many
homeowners feeling stymied and annoyed.
To remedy the angst of its residents, the HOA for the Seminole Lakes community
in Palm Beach County decided to forgo its rule against on-street overnight
parking. However, that decision nearly ended up causing the association major
legal and financial liabilities, which it was only able to avoid after it
appealed a jury’s verdict to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.
The case of Seminole Lakes Homeowner’s Association v. Esnard arose from a 2013
car accident in the community between the Esnards and another motorist, who
rear-ended their vehicle while they were stopped waiting for two trucks to pass
between two parked cars on the street. The Esnards, who were injured in the
accident and had their car completely totaled, filed suit against the other
driver as well as Seminole Lakes on the basis that the community was negligent
and had proximately caused their damages by permitting homeowners and their
guests to park on both sides of its streets—contrary to its governing documents.
The association’s restrictive covenants prohibited owners and guests from
parking on the street and required that vehicles be parked in driveways or
garages, or in designated common-area spaces. In 2009, the board recognized that
there was a severe parking problem in the community and decided to allow street
parking, even though the municipality in which the community is located
prohibits any street parking that interferes with the flow of traffic. By
allowing on-street parking, vehicles could park on both sides of the street
throughout the community, at times resulting in only one car at a time being
able to pass between two parked vehicles.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found that Seminole Lakes’ negligence
was a legal cause of the Esnard’s damages, and it apportioned 30 percent of the
fault to the HOA.
Seminole Lakes appealed the decision based, in part, on its motion for a
directed verdict which maintained that allowing cars to park on its streets was
not a proximate cause of the accident. In its unanimous decision, the Fourth DCA
found that while proximate causation is generally an issue for the trier of
fact, there are instances in which the issue should be decided as a matter of
law. It cited several cases concluding that the “question of proximate cause is
one for the court where there is an active and efficient intervening cause,” and
a remote condition or conduct which furnishes only the occasion for someone
else’s supervening negligence is not a proximate cause of the result of the
Given these prior rulings, the appellate panel concluded that in the immediate
action, conduct prior to an injury or death is not legally significant unless it
is a legal or proximate cause of the injury or death, as opposed to a cause of
the remote conditions or occasion for the later negligence.
The opinion goes on the cite 1980 and 1983 rulings by the Third DCA over an
accident also involving parked vehicles. While there was causation-in-fact in
that case, the accident was too extraordinary and too unforeseeable to be
considered a proximate cause of the defendant’s negligence.
Applying the same analysis, the court concluded that even though the vehicles
parked on the sides of the street in Seminole Lakes caused traffic to slow or
even stop, it cannot be said that this condition was a proximate cause of the
Esnards’ damages. “It is within common experience while driving on the streets
of Florida to encounter traffic that is slowed or stopped for any number of
reasons. The law requires every driver to maintain a safe distance from the
traffic in front of them to avoid rear-end collisions,” the panel concluded.
The Fourth DCA found that the Esnards had been stopped for a period of time
before being rear-ended, and the parking situation in the community was patently
obvious to all drivers using its streets. There was no evidence that they were
forced to make a sudden emergency stop or take any actions to avoid the parked
vehicles, so the court saw no difference between this situation and a car being
stopped behind a city bus picking up passengers.
After considering all of the evidence, including the lack of any prior incidents
of this nature, the panel concluded that the negligence of the culpable driver
was not reasonably foreseeable by the HOA, and its failure to enforce its
parking rules was not the proximate cause of the Esnards’ injuries. Accordingly,
the appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of Seminole Lakes’ motion
for directed verdict, and it remanded the case for judgment in the association’s
While this is a positive ruling for Florida community associations, by no means
does it shield them from potential liability stemming from decisions to not
enforce restrictions found in their governing documents. Factors such as the
foreseeability of an incident, the reasons behind the lack of enforcement, and
the specific actions and negligence of other culpable parties will continue to
hold sway in such cases. However, due to the potential for significant legal
liabilities arising from incidents involving rules enforcement and rule changes,
boards of directors should always consult with highly experienced association
legal counsel when considering such actions.