Animal House

As cities, towns and suburbs increasingly encroach into the natural habitat of wild animals, the interaction between people and these animals is growing more common.  Wild animals such as bears and alligators are becoming accustomed and desensitized to the presence of humans, and are becoming increasingly aggressive in their search for food around and inside of homes.  This clearly creates safety issues for people, their families and their pets. 

The question of how to deal with wild animals is especially complicated in the context of a planned community, because it is not always clear whether the community association has the right, obligation, or desire to take steps to deal with the animals. 

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported in October 2012 that a subdivision in western North Carolina was dealing with a recurring bear problem.  In 2012, bears broke into around 10 homes in the Laurel Hill subdivision searching for food.  The community’s association decided to address the problem by enacting rules prohibiting homeowners from leaving food and garbage outside, and also by using hunting dogs to run the bears away.  While some of the residents were in favor of using the dogs to chase away the bears, others were opposed, claiming that it was a cruel tactic that didn’t produce results. 

News 4 in Jacksonville, Florida reported in April 2012 that an alligator was living in a lake in the Vista Cove neighborhood.  A number of the residents wanted the alligator killed or removed, because it had exhibited aggressive behavior and was a danger for the neighborhood children.  However, the community association felt otherwise.  The community association’s president told the television station that the association did not consider the alligator aggressive and that the association had decided to leave it alone.

Which approach is correct?  Should a community association take steps to remove wild animals from the community, or should they leave the animals alone?  The answer is not always clear and certainly depends on the particular facts of the situation.  However, these issues are being addressed by the courts.

In Landings Association v. Williams, 291 Ga. 397, 728 S.E.2d 577 (2012) an 83 year old woman, who was house-sitting for her daughter, went for a walk at night near one of the lagoons in the planned community and was attacked and killed by an alligator.  The Georgia Supreme Court determined that the community association was not liable for her death.  The Court’s decision rested on the fact that the deceased had knowledge of the presence of alligators in the lagoons in the community, and that knowledge was equal to the knowledge of the association.  Accordingly, the Court decided that the deceased assumed the risk of the danger created by the alligators’ presence in the community. 

Would the outcome of this case been different if the deceased had been a first time visitor to the community and not known about the alligators?  Would the outcome have been different if the association had taken steps to minimize the danger created by the alligators but taken these steps negligently?  What if the restrictive covenants contained provisions specifically requiring the association to deal with wild animals?

Regardless of how the law in this area continues to develop, it is clear that the presence of wild animals in planned communities will only increase in the future as human development continues to move outward towards and into natural habitats.  

This blog post is not, and should not be considered, legal advice, and is for general informational purposes only.  Always consult an attorney for legal advice regarding specific situations. 



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