Can Individual HOA Board Members Be Sued In Florida?
Despite the fact that most board members in homeowners’ and condominium associations are volunteers, being a board member is a job that comes with quite a bit of responsibility. Community association boards generally have a fiduciary duty to their owners, and because of this, owners may file suit in an effort to hold them accountable if they believe that duty is being breached. The good news is that there are only certain specific situations in which a suit may actually move forward against an individual. An experienced attorney may be able to help clarify matters.
Breaching Fiduciary Duty
When the law states that board members have a fiduciary duty to the association’s owners, what this means is that board members must act with care and within the scope of their authority, and make their decisions based solely on the perceived benefit of the association, rather than for any personal gain. If it can be shown that any individual board member has acted in a way that does not uphold their duty, they can be held liable for the consequences.
It is generally not uncommon for an owner to name one or more board members as defendants in a lawsuit that stems from an alleged breach of fiduciary duty, either because they genuinely believe the member has acted negligently, or because they believe that naming individual board members may put pressure on the board as a whole. If a board member has committed, for example, embezzlement, an owner or another board member may file suit against them because that action would be a breach of their fiduciary duty – but what many do not know is that if there is no breach of duty, individual board members cannot be held liable.
Negligence Implicates The Entire Board
If an owner or another party tries to file suit against an individual board member when there is an issue of negligence – as opposed to breach of their fiduciary duty – Florida law states that only the association as a whole can potentially be held liable, because it is the association that has an obligation to keep the premises in good working repair. Individual members can be party to those decisions, but they would never unilaterally make them. In addition, Florida law has a provision called the “business judgment rule,” which essentially insulates individual board members from liability in association decisions as long as they acted reasonably in making them.
This may seem unfair in some respects to the average owner, but the purpose of protecting board members in this way is to ensure that an upset owner directs their complaint toward the person or entity who should be responsible for correcting it. Unless an individual board member has committed a tort, such as fraud, or other willful misconduct, the appropriate remedy for community association business is to raise the issue with the entire association, because the entire association will be responsible for making things right (if at all possible).
Contact A Tampa Community Association Attorney
If you are a board member for your HOA or condo association, and you have been served with a lawsuit, it is generally a good idea to take it seriously, even if you are unsure whether the plaintiff has a case or not. Calling a Tampa HOA & condo association attorney can help to get your questions answered. Attorney Alicia Seward and the Seward Law Office have handled many of these matters, and we can hopefully assist you with yours. Call our office today at 813-252-6789 to set up an initial consultation.