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HOA could be sued in Trayvon Martin civil suit

6:55 PM, Mar 30, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The residents who live in the gated community where Trayvon Martin was killed could soon find themselves in a legal battle.

Several attorneys say if Martin's parents file a civil suit, the homeowners association for the Retreat at Twin Lakes could be named in the case, meaning residents of the community could end up paying big money for the 17-year-old's death.

"I would be terribly surprised if the Martin family did not eventually bring a lawsuit against the HOA," said Tampa attorney John Fitzgibbons.

Fitzgibbons says the key question will be whether George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain for the HOA who fatally shot Martin, was told not to carry a gun and what guidelines were given to members of the watch group.

"I'm sure the HOA will say he was a lone ranger as far as whatever happened. Somebody else might say, (like) the family (that) they knew what he was doing, he's been doing this for a long time. He was acting within their scope and authority."

The head of a statewide advocacy group for people living in community associations says, in general, neighborhood watches are good. But Jan Bergemann with Cyber Citizens for Justice notes guidelines for watch groups are critical.

"You know neighborhood watch groups are what the name says, 'watch' is the magic word in that part. They should watch, they should observe, and then they should call the police and let police deal with the issue," Bergemann told 10 News.

How much and how closely Sanford police worked with the Retreat at Twin Lakes Neighborhood Watch volunteers will also likely be examined if a civil suit is filed. But Fitzgibbons adds Zimmerman will not need to be charged criminally for such a suit to move forward.

"You can win the criminal case and you can lose the civil case and visa versa. Look at O.J. So one is about money and one is about liberty and that's the difference?" he said.

Bottom line, Bergemann says while HOA amenities like a community pool, club house, or tennis courts are nice, members also need to understand they assume some neighborhood liabilities, adding if a civil suit is filed and the HOA loses it could result in a special assessment for the community members.

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