Q: A few weeks ago, another apartment in our condo had its water heater replaced. The management company only placed signs in a section indicating that the water would be shut off. We lost water in my unit, so I went outside to investigate. Not seeing anyone around, I noticed that the main water valve was closed. When I opened the valve it apparently caused an overflow where they were working, damaging the unit where the radiator was being replaced. Who is responsible for the damage?
A: There are two questions to ask: who is responsible for the damage, and who is responsible for it.
There are a lot of complaints. The management company should have properly informed residents that it was shutting off the water. The contractor should have physically tagged the valve so that no one accidentally opened it. And you shouldn’t have played with the valve.
Residents of condominiums do not have the power to repair or work on the common elements of their community – it is the role of the association.
Responsibility is different from responsibility. The determination of liability is different in each state. In Florida, we follow the âcomparative negligence doctrine,â while in some other states each negligent party is equally and fully liable for the damage it has helped to cause.
Comparative negligence means that a court will apportion the damage between each responsible party in proportion to its share of fault.
For example, in your case the management company and contractor were only slightly responsible for not giving sufficient notice of the work, so they may be responsible for a smaller portion of the costs.
Because you took it upon yourself to turn the valve back on rather than calling the management company to report the water problem and let them deal with it, you may be responsible for the most significant part of the damage.
You never know how a judge or jury will see things before a trial. Litigation is time consuming and expensive for everyone involved, so it would be best to settle things without going to court to start.
Gary M. Singer is a Florida lawyer and board certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, commercial litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Florida. He is president of the real estate section of the Broward County Bar Association and co-host of the weekly radio show “Legal News and Review.” âHe consults frequently on general Florida real estate issues and trends with various companies across the country. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.