On April 8, 2011, Judge Swersky sitting on the Alexandria Circuit Court, ruled in favor of Carlyle Towers Condominium Unit Owners Association in a claim related to water damage.
Judge Swersky held that the facts were not in dispute. Damage to Kuehn’s unit was caused by water leaking from the shower within Kuehn’s unit. Kuehn attempted to rely on the chart of maintenance responsibilities recorded as an exhibit to the association bylaws to allocate the cost of damage (wholly occurring within her unit and from a component for which she was responsible) to the association.
The chart of maintenance responsibilities (known to be cryptic, confusing and poorly worded) provided that the association was responsible for:
Water damage to common elements or units other than the one which is the primary source of the problem through negligence of the occupants of such unit.
But, Judge Swersky held that the provisions of the bylaws must be read together. And, the bylaws contained a limitation of association liability, providing:
The Association shall not be liable for…injury or damage to person or property…resulting from electricity, water, snow or ice which may leak or flow…from any pipe, drain, conduit, appliance or equipment.
This case is at least the third time this provision has been upheld in Virginia courts, with similar provisions upheld in Nido v. Ocean Owners’ Council, 237 Va. 664 (1989) and Samuels v. Treebrooke Condominium Association, 41 Va. Cir. 109 (1996).
Ms. Kuehn appealed a portion of the decision of the Alexandria Circuit Court, but her appeal was ultimately dismissed.
Most significant quotes:
Regardless of the source of the leak and regardless of whether or not Ms. Kuehn was negligent, this claim falls with the limitation of liability set forth above. It was water leaking from a pipe, drain, or conduit that caused Complainant’s damage.
As a matter of law, Defendant has specifically limited its liability to Complainant and cannot be held liable.
Because every set of recorded governing documents are different, the application of case law to each community association differs. As always, contact an experienced attorney for advice and counsel.