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Landowner Owes No Duty to Provide Onsite Parking to Invitees

» Posted November 19, 2021News

In the recently decided case of Issakhani v. Shadow Glen Homeowners Association, Inc., the plaintiff followed another car through the Shadow Glen condominium complex's security gate and looked for a parking space, with the intent of visiting her friend who lived in the complex. The complex has 170 onsite parking spaces, and they are marked as "Reserved" for residents or as "Visitor" for guests. She did not see an available parking space, so she parked her car outside the community on the far side of a five-lane street. Rather than walk to the next marked crosswalk several hundred feet away, she jaywalked across the street at night. She was struck by a car and sustained a traumatic brain injury along with several skull fractures. She sued the association for damages.

The Shadow Glen complex was built in 1979 as a 68-unit housing development in Sun Valley, California. At the time of construction, the  developer applied to the City of Los Angeles to have the parcel rezoned as a multiple dwelling zone. The City Council conditionally granted the developer's application. One of the conditions was that the "guest parking" be "provide[d]" "at a ratio of one-half space per dwelling unit in excess" of that otherwise required by the  municipal code. Because the complex was to have 68 units, the City required 34 "guest parking" spaces.

After construction was completed, the City issued a Certificate of Occupancy that reflected 170 total parking spaces, which was 13 spaces more than required. By the time of the accident, the complex still had 170 parking spaces but only six of them were marked as "Visitor" spaces. In other words, over the years, most of the guest parking spaces had been converted to reserved parking spaces.

The plaintiff sued the Shadow Glen Homeowners Association, Inc. (the Association) on the premise that the Association's failure to maintain the number of guest parking spaces mandated by the City “created a foreseeable risk of harm for the Condominium's guests." The case was dismissed after the Association received a summary judgment on the grounds that the Association owed plaintiff no duty under the common law or based on the City’s developmental requirements. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court opined that a duty of care exists when one person has a legal obligation to prevent harm to another person, such that breach of that obligation can give rise to liability. An owner of land has a common law duty to maintain land in its possession and control in a reasonably safe condition as to avoid exposing others to an unreasonable risk of injury. Because plaintiff alleged that she was struck by a car in the street due to the Association's failure to provide enough onsite parking for guests, the question in this case becomes: Does the landowner's common law duty of care entail protecting an invitee against injuries incurred off site due to an alleged deficiency on the landowner's property? The answer the appellate court came to is that “It certainly can.”

The landowner's duty of care encompasses a duty to avoid exposing persons to risks of injury that occur off site if the landowner's property is maintained in such a manner as to expose persons to an unreasonable risk of injury offsite. The  fact that the injuries occurred on the adjacent property does not automatically bar recovery.

With that said, the appellate court concluded that a landowner's common law duty of care does not encompass a duty to provide onsite parking for invitees to protect them from traffic accidents occurring off site as they travel to the premises. The appellate court cited Vasilenko vGrace Family Church (2017) in which the  Supreme Court held that "a landowner who does no more than site and maintain [an offsite] parking lot that requires invitees to cross a public street to reach the landowner's premises does not owe a duty to protect those invitees from the obvious dangers of the public street." And what is more, a landowner owes no duty to provide onsite parking to invitees.  Further, the appellate court noted that before the Vasilenko decision, there was a long line of cases that have consistently refused to impose a duty upon landowners to provide onsite parking to protect their invitees from the dangers of crossing nearby streets to access the property. But the absence of onsite parking by itself is not enough to establish liability.

One can imagine a scenario slightly different in which a homeowners association could have liability. For example, if we twist the facts and imagine that an agent of Shadow Glen directed the plaintiff to an offsite parking space and/or explained how the street might be crossed safely, it is feasible to expect liability for an injury resulting more directly by following the agent’s instructions.

But, with the facts presented in this case, the plaintiff found her own parking spot, made her own decision to cross a 5-lane highway at night and jaywalked, presumably to save time. Shadow Park did not have a duty to provide parking and moreover, Shadow Park was not the actual cause of her injuries.

The appellate court also included some interesting ideas about what would be good  public policy. The court found that imposing a duty to provide sufficient onsite parking to accommodate all invitees would not be especially effective in preventing future harm. Most commercial and residential properties actively used by people consist of structures along with a finite number of parking spaces. Short of requiring landowners to bulldoze structures or excavate and build underground structures to create more parking spaces, imposing a duty upon landowners to set aside enough parking spaces for all invitees is likely to do nothing more than shift the identity of who is forced to park off site—instead of invitees, it may instead be residents and employees who must park off site. But shifting the identity of who must park off site would not do much to prevent future harm in the aggregate.

The court also rejected the idea that the City’s conditional approval created a duty to maintain the guest parking spaces. The guest parking condition was aimed at preserving the aesthetic character of the surrounding neighborhood, and not at protecting invitees from traffic accidents.