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Claim Story - Even the best intentions can lead to bitter disputes.

Posted 5/30/2018

Even the best intentions can lead to bitter disputes

As a person responsible for making decisions on behalf of his community association, Frank Cooke aimed to have the best intentions in mind. But when he and his fellow board members needed to make a decision on behalf of the community regarding safety measures for the local community pool, he managed to create a conflict with the wrong association member. 

Being a person that took pride in being a member of the community, Mr. Cooke felt quite humbled and proud when asked to become a member of the community association board. He was an accountant with a steady nine-to-five job, but he took on the extra responsibility voluntarily.

The trouble began for Mr. Cooke when, during a regular community meeting, the topic of how to allocate operating funds for the swimming pool came up for debate. The majority of the committee members were onboard to replace the old water heater, which wasn’t functioning properly, with a more energy efficient brand, while one member suggested hiring a full-time lifeguard to be on duty throughout the summer months.

The solitary committee member, a single mother of two named Janine Miller, argued that the current water heater still had a few years before needing to be replaced, while the population of children using the pool had grown in recent years and now there was a need for professional supervision during pool hours. The general response to Ms. Miller’s suggestion from the members of the board was that it was unnecessary to hire a full-time lifeguard for a mid-size community pool. 

According to Mr. Cooke, Ms. Miller became quite aggravated during the meeting when she began to feel that her suggestion was not being taken seriously. He stated that he tried to calm Ms. Miller down, and thought that if he did not defuse the situation, it would get out of hand. He called for an immediate vote on the decision, and there was a majority decision for the implementation of a new water heater.

After the meeting, Mr. Cooke thought that was the end of it. However, a few weeks later he was served a summons and complaint filed by Ms. Miller that stated personal discrimination against herself, and widespread discrimination by the board against families with children. She claimed that Mr. Cooke undermined her contribution to the community meeting by forcing a decision before all the facts could be discussed. 

“It was an absolute shock to me,” stated the crestfallen Mr. Cooke. “I never thought anything like this would happen. I was simply trying to mediate a situation that I could see was getting out of hand. But I guess in doing so, I drew a bull’s-eye on my back. I mean, the association had insurance to cover me in case a dispute ever came up as a result of my decisions, but I never expected I would need it. They are my neighbors, for goodness sake.”

In the end, the court costs, mediation, and legal fees for Mr. Cooke and the HOA board’s case came to $26,250, which were covered under the community association’s D&O insurance policy. While the case undoubtedly did irrevocable damage to Mr. Cooke’s reputation as an upstanding member of the committee, as well as created further division between members of the community, the association’s foresight into investing in D&O coverage saved Mr. Cooke from incurring further damage to his bank account.

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