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Homeowners' association held liable for swing set injury

Jury awarded $20 million verdict against HOA

A jury in Nevada has held a homeowner's association accountable for a playground accident that left a teenager with permanent brain damage. The plaintiff was awarded $20 million.

It was one of the largest premises liability awards ever in Nevada. If the verdict stands, the homeowners may have to pay the difference. 

Swing set had collapsed before

Carl Thompon was 15 years old when he sat on a swing set at the Lamplight Village at Centennial Springs, according to the lawsuit filed on his behalf. A 42-pound rusted metal crossbar broke, landing on his head. He survived, but suffered lasting disabilities as a result of the brain trauma.

The swing set lawsuit named several defendants: the swing set manufacturer, the company that installed it and the homeowners' association. In the end, the jury determined that the association was liable. According to the lawsuit, the swing set had previously failed at least three times and the association had declined an annual maintenance plan recommended by the installer. Under the doctrine of premises liability, the association has an obligation to ensure that playgrounds and other common areas are safe for residents and visitors.

Thompson's lawsuit cited memory loss, migraines, muscle spasms and permanent brain damage. The Lamplight association argued that his injuries were not as severe as he claimed, even though the swing set had crushed the left side of his skull. The HOA also countered that a property management company was responsible for upkeep of the playground equipment.

Property owners may be accountable for HOA dangers

Thompson's attorney said the association's highest pretrial settlement offer was $125,000. At trial, the jury found for the plaintiff and awarded a $20 million dollar verdict that included $10 million in punitive damages.

According to the Claims Journal, an insurance industry publication, the verdict far exceeds the $2 million policy limits of the association's liability coverage. That means that the 200-plus homeowners in the association could be on the hook for the remainder - at about $88,000 each - unless the award is overturned or reduced on appeal. Some members said the HOA board did not keep them apprised of the lawsuit and their potential exposure.

 

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