Alligators, Coyotes and Black Bears. Oh My! How Your Community’s Liability Is Changing

By Clayton & McCulloh

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Bears and AlligatorsHere in Florida, we have plenty of wild animals to be concerned with: black bears, alligators, snakes, in some parts of the state, wild boar, crocodiles, and bobcats, and now becoming ever more common, even in urban areas, we have coyotes.  Recent trends in the law are seemingly increasing the risk of liability to community association for the acts of wild animals.  In the past, a landowner did not generally bear liability under the law for the acts of wild animals. The primary exception to that general rule was where the owner had in some way kept or held captive such an animal.  Now, it appears the trend is changing to where liability could be found if the owner was aware of the presence of a wild animal and did nothing to warn others of the presence of that animal and harm to those innocent persons resulted.  So you need to consider with the rest of your Board how well your community puts your members or their guests on notice of the wild animals in your community’s midst of which you are aware but which they may not be.  Notice can be as simple as signs around retention areas that remain wet for extended periods, thus providing a home to alligators and snakes, or placing bear crossing signs on your roadways if they’ve been sighted.  Have trouble (or have your neighboring communities had trouble) with pesky bears looking for picnic baskets (which we all know means untended garbage cans)? Then undertake a campaign to get your owners to exercise discipline and care with handling and putting garbage out for pick up. Educate owners to not leave out food of any sort for any wild (or domestic) animals, and to certainly never feed wild animals. Contact Florida’s many governmental service units to find out more about wild animals in your area as well as what simple steps you can take to avoid human-wild animal encounters and to put you members and their guests on notice of animal sightings and dangers.