A consumer recently wrote to us to ask about the power of a small sign posted by a homeowners association. She was visiting a private neighborhood with an automatic gate when the gate malfunctioned and came down on her car, causing $1,700 worth of damage. When she complained to the homeowners association, she was directed to a small sign posted by the gate that says they are not responsible for any damage caused by the gate. The consumer wanted to know whether that sign can actually absolve the HOA of responsibility for her damaged vehicle.
Assumption of Risk
You may see these signs all over the place. “Not responsible for damage,” the signs say. Whether it’s a business, a community, a recreational facility, or any number of places, these signs attempt to absolve the proprietors of any responsibility if you are injured, or your property is damaged or stolen. But does that little sign carry any legal weight?
We asked a lawyer, and they told us that this sign is attempting to invoke a legal principle called assumption of risk. Basically, they are trying to indicate that you are knowingly assuming certain risks upon yourself by partaking in their activities or even entering their premises. Since this is a risk you were aware of and you still decided to proceed, you are the one responsible for any consequences of your decision.
For this legal principle to function, you have to have knowledge of the risk. So did this sign from the HOA really spell out the risk you were accepting by using their automatic gate? That is up for debate and would have to be settled by a court if you went so far as to sue the HOA.
The Shame Game
If you’re not ready to sue the HOA, you can always start with just a little social pressure. Try to work things out with the HOA first. If that doesn’t work, you can post about your problem online and be sure to tag or include the HOA. Simply sharing your experience can sometimes put enough pressure on a business or organization to make them do the right thing.