Twin Rivers board changes tort clause

A provision that would prevent guests from suing the homeowners association over slips and falls has been removed from a proposed tort immunity clause.

By: T.J. Furman
   EAST WINDSOR — A proposed change in the documents governing Twin Rivers that aims to prevent slip-and-fall lawsuits from residents there has been changed for a second time.
   A provision in the proposed amendment that would have restricted guests of Twin Rivers residents from suing for such injuries was removed by a vote of the Twin Rivers Homeowners Association board of directors at its meeting May 9. Twin Rivers residents will vote on the amendment in October.
   Board President Scott Pohl said the change was made because of litigation threatened by a member of the homeowners association present at the meeting, but did not specifically identify anyone. There were five members of the association at the meeting.
   Al Wally, a frequent critic of the board who spoke out against the inclusion of guests in the clause at an informational meeting last month, was present May 9, but denied threatening legal action after the meeting. He did admit, however, to writing a letter to the board about the matter.
   Jennifer Ward, the association’s administrator, did not specify a particular reason for a change when interviewed Tuesday.
   "We’ve been doing more and more research on (the tort immunity clause) and at the recommendation of counsel we removed the guests," Ms. Ward said. "I don’t know the total reasoning behind counsel’s decision."
   A phone call to the office of Mark Shane, the board’s attorney, was not returned this week. At last month’s informational meeting, Mr. Shane defended the inclusion of guests in the clause, despite Mr. Wally’s insistence it would break a state law.
   The board is seeking the amendment as a way of reducing insurance payments that have skyrocketed in the past two years because of 24 claims filed — 14 from slip-and-fall accidents — from 1997 to 2001. In 2000, Twin Rivers paid $5,000 for its insurance coverage. This year, after being forced to find a new carrier in 2001, it paid $154,000.
   Mr. Pohl said the insurance company, National Indemnity Co. of Nebraska, expects that number to reach between $225,000 and $250,000 in 2003. Mr. Pohl said conversations with similar communities that have passed a tort immunity clause indicate Twin Rivers could save 20 percent on its premiums if the residents approve it.
   The proposed amendment would not apply in cases where the association is found to be grossly, wantonly or deliberately negligent in the maintenance of the community’s common grounds.
   In addition to the removal of guests, the date of the referendum meeting was moved up one day, from Oct. 31 to Oct. 30. The board scheduled the meeting for Oct. 31 because of a desire to hold the referendum close to the end of the year and hold it on the board’s traditional Thursday meeting date. However, the board decided to avoid holding the meeting on Halloween so more residents would be free to attend. Ballots for residents to vote through the mail will be sent out earlier that month.
   The referendum was originally scheduled for April, but was later moved to Oct. 31.