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Liability for Overflow Parking Lot Accidents

Who is Responsible for Overflow Parking Lot Injuries?

Under California law, someone who becomes injured on private or public property due to negligence is eligible to file a compensation claim for premises liability damages. This law is spelled out under California Civil Code 1714(a), which covers liability involving premises. However, what if the owner or occupier is merely borrowing another property for their use? The following case illustrates that liability may not extend to properties that are neither owned nor controlled by the original owner/occupier.

Accident Injures Churchgoer Attempting to Cross the Street

A lawsuit was filed against Grace Family Church in Carmichael by one of their parishioners, Aleksandr Vasilenko. Vasilenko had arrived to attend services, discovered that the parking lot for the church was full and parked in the overflow lot across the street, which was owned by a swim center. Volunteer attendants with the church manned the alternate parking lot. Vasilenko and his wife then proceeded to cross Marconi Avenue, which has five busy lanes, no crosswalks and no traffic light in that location. Vasilenko made it across halfway, stopping in the center median to wait for traffic to pass. As he attempted to finish crossing, he was struck by a motor vehicle and injured.

Lawsuit Filed Against Church for Negligence

Vasilenko filed a lawsuit in California’s 3rd District Court claiming that the location for the overflow lot created a risk of harm and that attendants stationed there were inadequately supervised and trained. Although the defendant in Vasilenko vs Grace Family Church asked that the case be dismissed, the request was denied. The plaintiff’s argument stated that the church had a responsibility to provide safe ingress and egress to those attending their church services. The argument of the plaintiff was that the church not only told parishioners where to park but also operated and maintained the alternate parking lot across the street, and attendees were forced to cross a busy road. The church denied that it had an obligation to do this. 

The trial court accepted the Church’s argument. An appellate court heard the case and reversed the trial court’s decision, saying that a duty of care was indeed owed to the plaintiff, Vasilenko. 

Case Reaches the State Supreme Court

Justices with the State Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Court of Appeals. Their contention was that a property owner could not be held liable for dangers at a public street and could not be held liable because an organization or private citizen could do only so much. Justice Goodwin Liu, in his opinion, wrote that state and local authorities were solely responsible for installing traffic control devices such as crosswalks for pedestrians, signals or signs. While the landowner can request that a traffic device be installed, which Grace Family Church did, the decision to do so falls upon the local authority.

No Liability on the Part of the Parking Lot Attendants

According to Justice Liu, the attendants at the parking lot were volunteers and had no authority to help the parishioners cross the street since they were not “authorized traffic officers,” which is required by county ordinance. In addition, the justices rejected that the church required a sign warning about the hazards of crossing Marconi Avenue, saying that the peril of walking across the street was obvious. Justice Liu pointed out that it was obviously dangerous to cross a street in the middle of the block, so the church had no duty to provide a warning.

Foreseeing Possible Harm in Premises Liability Cases

The church had an additional parking location further away that was at a business plaza, which would not have involved crossing over Marconi Avenue, which was pointed out by Vasilenko in his claim. This was dismissed by the high court because landowners were not able to foresee all possible harm that might occur in public. Justice Liu, in his response, said, if an invitee experienced a mugging between the church and business parking lot or slipped while on the sidewalk because of a puddle, the argument could be made that the lot at the swim school might have been safer. In addition, he pointed out, parking further away after dark might have increased the risk of a carjacking or break-in.

Final Ruling – Church Wins Lawsuit in Premises Liability Case

The high court determined that by making landowners liable in situations such as the lawsuit between Grace Family Church and their parishioner would result in businesses and churches not making parking available at all. This, the justices believed, would make the streets less safe.

Sacramento Premises Liability Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Premises Liability Lawyer in Sacramento. If you have been seriously injured in an accident, please call me for free and  friendly advice. I can be reached at (916) 921-6400. In addition, I can be reached at (800) 404-5400 or by filling out the online form.

Client reviews and cases my law firm handled are found at these links:

I have successfully handled all types of traffic accidents, premises liability cases, wrongful deaths and traumatic injuries during my 37 years as an injury lawyer.

I am honored to be a member of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and a forum member with Million Dollar Advocates.

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