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Homeowners' Associations Could Face Liability for Bear Attacks

June 23, 2016

By: Gary M. Kaleita

It is sometimes said that law is what separates humans from wild animals. While humans have been developing laws since the Code of Hammurabi, they have also been developing land, so much so that both commercial and residential projects increasingly encroach into wild animal habitats. Since 1990, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (“FWC”) has received over 50,000 telephone calls reporting black bear sightings signicant enough to prompt concerns. Since 2013, there have been several instances of bears attacking humans in Florida. As human populations grow and natural habitats shrink, it is increasingly likely that bears may injure people and/or damage their property.

Ordinary Care -

Generally, an owner of land does not have an obligation to warn others about the dangers of animals in their natural habitat, or protect others from wild animal attacks. Yet the law is well settled that an owner or occupier of land must exercise ordinary care in the management of their property, and the breach of this duty gives rise to a cause of action for negligence. While an owner's duty to exercise ordinary care is not expected to prevent all injury, an owner is expected to use reasonable care to discover dangerous conditions on their land and to protect permitted entrants from those conditions. Although the interpretation of this duty varies from court to court, prudent owners should regard every visitor (whether a guest or contractor) as a potential party deserving such protection. Indeed, a Georgia court case indicated that, when a visitor was injured running away from a snake in overgrown grass, negligence could be found if the owner should have foreseen that there were snakes in the area on account of the overgrown grass.

Originally published in The Real Estate Finance Journal - Winter/Spring 2016.

Click here to read the publication in full.


Gary

With more than 30 years of experience in real estate law, including over 20 years as a Board-certified expert in the field, Gary Kaleita has acquired the ability to navigate the complexities of sophisticated real estate deals with relative ease.


Gary has a wide variety of experience in real estate development, finance and transactions, condominiums, property owners’ associations, commercial leasing, commercial lending, and title insurance.

Gary enjoys a reputation for anticipating and avoiding problems, rather than merely reacting to them. He has years of experience handling purchases, sales and financings of commercial and residential projects, including office, industrial, retail, multi-family, single-family, condominium, resort, hotel and golf course properties. Gary has prepared and negotiated contracts for sale and purchase, performed due diligence investigations, and handled all aspects of closings, including issuance of title insurance and legal opinions. He has also performed tax free exchanges (both forward and reverse) under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, and has handled closings for housing revenue bond financing transactions with the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and various local housing finance authorities.

In the area of real estate development, Gary has assisted developers in obtaining land use approvals, plat approvals and permits for various developments from a number of jurisdictions in Central Florida, including planned developments (PD’s) and Developments of Regional Impact (DRI’s). He has drafted and negotiated complex land use documents, including development agreements, cost-sharing agreements, declarations of covenants, conditions, restrictions and easements. He also has experience in mall and shopping center developments, including outparcels, and has assisted developers with the selection, formation and operation of business entities, including commercial and residential property owners associations. He has extensive experience with the formation and operation of both commercial and residential condominiums as well.

In addition, Gary has established somewhat of a boutique practice by acting as local counsel to help out-of-state lenders, investors and law firms navigate the complexities of Florida real estate law. He is frequently engaged by large national and international law firms needing assistance on a variety of issues for their clients doing business in Florida. Gary regularly provides advice on Florida law and custom pertaining to purchase and sale contracts as well as loan documents, addresses local due diligence issues, answers questions involving titles, surveys and title insurance, and provides Florida legal opinions.

Not just another real estate lawyer, before pursuing his career in law Gary served as a U.S. Naval officer on active duty for 4 years in the Mediterranean Sea, first with a patrol gunboat squadron in Italy and then at a communications station in Greece. During this period he traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He believes his military experience is the source of the practical approach he has developed to problem solving.

Gary also took the initiative, after a homeowner in his own neighborhood was mauled by a Florida black bear in 2013, of researching what his homeowners’ association could do to limit the likelihood of future attacks. In the process, he became an expert in the subject of “bear-wise” communities and drafted a policy that his own homeowners’ association adopted, thereby becoming the first residential community to be officially recognized as bear-wise by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). He has since written and spoken extensively on this subject, serves on the FWC’s Central Bear Management Unit Stakeholder Group, and has become a resource for FWC to educate other communities on the importance of bear-wise practices in areas of Florida containing black bear habitat.

Gary focuses on finding pragmatic solutions to complex problems, recognizing that clients want sensible and realistic advice in a timely manner so they can go about their business.

Chambers USA (2015)* reports that Gary has substantial experience acting as lender’s counsel and is acclaimed by market sources as an “extremely responsive, very practical and reasonable” practitioner.


*We make no guarantees or promises that the reader will realize the same or similar results

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