December 21, 2016

Washington Court of Appeals Issues Rattlesnake Ruling

A rattlesnake bit Mica Craig while he was shopping at a Walmart outdoor garden center in Clarkston, Washington.  Mr. Craig's subsequent lawsuit against Walmart was dismissed on summary judgment, and he appealed.  The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Mr. Craig in a recent unpublished opinion.  The Court held that Walmart created a risk of rattlesnake bites and that Walmart owed Mr. Craig a duty of reasonable care to prevent his injury.

The Court's decision is based on a pithy observation: "Rattlesnakes wander." The Court decided that "Walmart's choice to locate an outdoor garden center in its parking lot and adjacent to undeveloped land where rattlesnakes are known to live created a reasonably foreseeable hazard .... that its customers would interact with wandering rattlesnakes hiding among the dirt, plants, and other items for sale .... [and] be bitten by a rattlesnake."  As the Court observed in the concluding paragraph of its opinion: "Most businesses have walls and doors that generally prevent wild animals, including rattlesnakes, from entering." 

Community associations must take steps to ensure the safety of their common areas.  If they fail to do so, then civil liability can result.     

December 7, 2016

Comply with Fire Alarm Requirements!

It's cold outside, so thoughts turn to fire. As Q13 reported last month, Snohomish County fire officials recently confirmed that fifteen local condominium and apartment buildings are not updated with legally required fire alarms.  The compliance crackdown came about a year after a fire killed a person in their Everett apartment on New Year’s Eve.  The building involved in that tragedy did not have a sprinkler system, which allowed the fire to spread through the attic.  

When community association boards fail to follow fire alarm requirements, they at a minimum subject their associations to compliance actions by local authorities.  Boards also subject their associations, their members, and the other owners to unacceptable risks associated with possible property damage, personal injury, and loss of life. Wise association boards seek to understand and comply with local fire alarm requirements. My office is here to help if your board is unclear about the association's obligations in this area.