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Trayvon Martin's family may sue homeowners association

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman CBS

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman
CBS

(CBS/AP) SANFORD, Fla. - If Trayvon Martin's family sues over his death, they may target the homeowners association of the neighborhood where the shooting took place instead of George Zimmerman himself.

Pictures: Trayvon Martin shooting

If Zimmerman's claim that he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense is upheld by prosecutors, a judge or a jury, Florida's Stand Your Ground law would protect him from a lawsuit. However, his clearance or acquittal wouldn't stop Martin's parents from suing The Retreat at Twin Lakes homeowners association - and its insurance policies and assets would make it a much more lucrative target than Zimmerman, even if he is eventually convicted of a crime.

Attorneys say that part of the case would likely be a newsletter sent by the association to residents in February, which is the same month as the shooting that said Zimmerman was the go-to person for residents who had been the victim of a crime.

Under the heading "Neighborhood Watch," the newsletter's message recommended that residents first call police and then "please contact our Captain, George Zimmerman ... so he can be aware and help address the issue with other residents."

That seeming endorsement of Zimmerman exposes the 7-year-old association to possible legal action by Martin's parents, homeowners association attorneys said.

"It's almost like if you give your son the keys to a brand new Corvette when he turns 16," and he gets in an accident, said Roberto Blanch, a South Florida attorney who specializes in homeowners associations. "You may be seen as enabling the occurrence or the loss."

By designating Zimmerman the neighborhood watch captain in the newsletter, the homeowners association "is stuck" if it's sued, said Justin Clark, an attorney based in Longwood, Fla., whose practice includes real estate law.

"If you're going to send out a newsletter saying, 'Hey, he is the captain. Whatever he says goes,' You have now basically rented a free police officer for your neighborhood," Clark said. "He certainly took on that role with the homeowners association and it seems to me that they recognized that."

One of the Martin family's attorneys, Daryl Parks, indicated last month that a civil lawsuit against the homeowners' association was likely.

Who would pay in the event of such a lawsuit would probably be determined by the type of insurance coverage the association has, Clark said.

Some policies may be wide enough to cover Zimmerman's actions. If there is no policy or the policy in place is very narrow in its coverage, homeowners likely would have to pay out of their own pockets through higher monthly assessment fees because most associations don't have very deep reserves, he said. He noted that policies typically cover about $1 million.

"I almost guarantee you there are going to be checks written," Clark said.

Complete coverage of the Trayvon Martin case on CBS News

  • Crimesider Staff

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