Red Light Cameras and Threatening Dogs – What is Common Thread?

You may say that red light cameras have nothing to do with HOAs or Condo Associations and I may be getting far afield here but I think a discussion on taking responsibility for one’s own actions is always in order.  People get off track – and its possible to get back on if one just thinks about it.

I was at a function the other evening with a bunch of HOA lawyers. Oh boy, try getting a word in. We were talking about cases, judgments and the absurd and bizarre things that are reported as happening in HOAs. Much of the discussion was about human responsibilities and the absurd things that people do!

One discussion was about an insurance policy limit judgment to a person who was bitten by a dog. This was not the first bite. Here are some of the facts stated: The dog’s owner was in the hospital recovering from a serious mauling of the face in the face when his girlfriend asked another of his friends to walk the [perpetrating] dog. The dog bit the middle finger off of the new victim and the person sued. The evidence (the finger) was pooped out of the dog when it was euthanized … and there you go. No argument about the evicence or damages! The point of this discussion was that a serious part of the problem was the failure to disclose a hazard and the judgment  (which was for $300,000) might have been much higher if the dog owner had “deep pockets” since girlfriend did not warn the new dog walker about the propensities of the dog.

I might add that all involved in this case seemed, at least from the way the story was reported, to be rather pathetic and I surmise possibly judgment-proof, probably precluding a much more punitive award (although $300,000 is nothing to sneeze at). It may even have been partly punitive because it is conceivable that middle fingers are probably not, say, as valuable as faces, or even thumbs – crass, huh, but this is the way that lawyers analyze cases. Had these people lived in an HOA and the board knew about the first bite and took no action to demand removal of the dog, the HOA probably would have been involved in the judgment as well.

Associations should take heed in dog bite or threatening dog cases because they are a much bigger target the individual in this story  was. Personal responsibility, or lack of it, plays a large part in HOA decisions, especially when it comes to trying to enforce the CC&Rs and rules.

I just recently attended an HOA hearing about a threatening dog and here is what happened:  the person with the threatening animal and the owner of the unit where it was kept, instead of providing assurances to the board of what they would do to take more measures to protect others, blamed the dog’s behavior on others.  (The bite victim “was crouching down [note that he was a landscaper doing his job] and that caused my dog to bite him.” and “The other dog was off leash and so mine went for it.” These “defenses” fall well short of any assurance that there will not be another bite or attack. 

Now for the “red light camera” tie in. The last item we discussed at this gathering was a federal case that basically judged the red light cameras at stoplights to be unconstitutional, because of a lack of due process for the subjects of the photos (those who got tickets).

Some of the lawyers in the room vehemently argued against the fines and for the victim’s rights, stating that they do not get due process (a chance to challenge the ticket) without paying for an attorney. There was lots of discussion about how the County or City should be required to prove the cameras were working properly that day or that the person in the blurry photo was actually the owner of the car whose license plate shows up. There was a complaint that there is no witness to the running of the red light to testify!

I may be stepping out on a limb here but give me a break. I have to say that I do not see a lot of HOA lawyers offering sympathy to owners in an HOA or Condo association that are facing a fine for some violation where the board failed to gather much evidence, or even offering to stand up for them. And here is what I was thinking about arguing about the “victim” of the red light cameras …

Those red light cameras were put in place to save lives and keep people from blocking intersections and running red lights.” and

If people were inclined to slow down when they see a yellow light instead of speeding up, they probably would not end up with their picture on the front of a “Citation.” and

If someone claims its not them, and there should be no ticket because the perpetrator is their brother or friend to whom they lent the vehicle, why don’t they (the lender of the vehicle) just collect the fine from that person … or even better, refuse to lend out their vehicle to irresponsible people who run red lights.”

But as I said, it is hard to get a word in edgewise.

I say these things a bit tongue in cheek, but the point is – well there are three actually –

1. If everyone took responsibility for their own actions instead of blaming others, the world would be a better place (maybe not as many lawyers, but hey … would that be bad?).  AND

2. If Boards would be careful about gathering evidence, keeping records, and requiring written complaints from complainers before setting a hearing and imposing fines, that would be good.  AND

3. If red light violators would slow down when they see a yellow light and stop and “smell the roses” (think peaceful thoughts), they could save lives, or at least avoid frustrating other drivers by clogging up busy intersections pushing to get through when traffic is slow.

And now, will there be an onslaught of responses about the red light situation? Save your breath. My brother is veteran 25 year+ San Francisco public defender and I do see both sides.

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