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November 8, 2002 - A measure that would have prevented some lawsuits against the homeowners association did not come close to receiving the necessary votes

A proposed amendment to the Twin Rivers Community Trust bylaws that would have protected the homeowners association from lawsuits for most slip-and-fall accidents fell far short of receiving the number of votes needed for passage. The amendment would have prohibited anyone from suing the trust for slip-and-fall accidents unless the trust was deemed to be grossly negligent.

The association's board members claim the cost of liability insurance has increased from $5,000 in 2000 to $154,000 in 2002. Twenty-four claims have been filed against Twin Rivers from 1997 to 2001, 14 from slip-and-fall accidents. Board President Scott Pohl said insurance costs are expected to rise again next year, but that the tort immunity clause would have decreased liability insurance rates by approximately 20 percent, if not more."Insurance companies do not want to write a general liability policy for this association because of the number of liability claims filed," Administrator Jennifer Ward said at last week's meeting.

Board members noted, however, that increases are being seen industry-wide, and that the association is not alone in facing skyrocketing insurance costs.

Board Attorney Ken White said the proposed amendment was not unprecedented."The liability coverage which the association is trying to obtain is the same coverage your state or municipality has," Mr. White said.

Critics of the proposal have claimed the board proposed the tort immunity clause to cover up a track record of improperly maintaining the common properties in Twin Rivers.

Prior to the seeing the vote results, some residents expressed fears they may not have the right to sue under the amendment.Resident Anna McFadden said she lives on a street that often is covered with ice in the winter."It's just a slick thing of ice all the time," she said. "That's my concern, that somebody is going to get hurt over there."

Mr. Pohl tried to ease the concerns. He said that if someone informs the association of a dangerous situation on common property in Twin Rivers (such as a broken sidewalk or ice) and the association does not take the appropriate measures in a reasonable amount of time, someone still could sue."Once we are aware of it, if somebody gets hurt, they still have the right to sue," Mr. Pohl said.

He provided examples of lawsuits the association has faced that he considered frivolous. One woman, he said, fell out of a pool chair and sued Twin Rivers, the chair manufacturer, and the pool management company. Another person, he said, sued when a child was injured riding a bicycle in the winter."If your parents are stupid enough to let you ride your bike in the snow and fall and get hurt, why should the rest of the community have to pay for it?" he asked rhetorically."You can't address the mentality of 'I want to sue you,'" Mr. Pohl continued. "When you sue the trust, you are not suing some entity that you have no tie to, you're suing yourself!"

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