11/15/2017California Supremes: Church Not Responsible For Jaywalking Parishoners
California Supreme Court says a property owner is not liable for hazards on nearby public streets.
The Grace Family Church in North Highlands, California is not responsible for a traffic accident that happened when a visitor crossed the street to attend services. The state's highest court on Monday denied Aleksandr Vasilenko's attempt to blame the Slavic Baptist church for injuries suffered while jaywalking on a nearby street.
On November 19, 2010, Vasilenko pulled into the packed main parking lot at the church's previous location in Carmichael. A volunteer attendant told him he had to park across the street in the overflow lot, which meant he and his wife would have to cross Marconi Avenue, a busy, five-lane boulevard with no traffic signal or crosswalk. So Vasilenko crossed halfway into the street to wait in the central median for traffic in the other direction to clear. Vasilenko did not see the car that stuck him, causing serious injury.
Vasilenko insisted that the church was negligent in setting up the situation that led to his injury on his first visit to Grace Family Church.
"Defendant chose to establish an overflow lot at the swim center, even though it knew it was very dangerous for lot users to walk across Marconi to return to the church, either at Root Avenue or, even more perilously, midblock by the shortest route directly from the overflow lot," Vasilenko's attorney argued.
The state Court of Appeal agreed with this proposition, but the state Supreme Court justices disagreed, refusing to hold a property owner liable for a dangerous situation on a public street, as there is only so much a private citizen or organization can do.
"Only state or local authorities may install traffic control devices on public streets, such as signs, pedestrian crosswalks, or traffic signals," Justice Goodwin Liu wrote for the unanimous court. "A landowner can petition the relevant authority to install a traffic control device -- indeed, the church did so here -- but the ultimate decision is up to that authority."
The volunteer parking lot attendants lack the authority needed to guide parishioners across the street because they are not "authorized traffic officers," as they would have to be under a county ordinance. The justices also rejected the idea that the church should have installed a sign to warn of the potential hazard.
"The danger posed by crossing a public street midblock is obvious, and there is ordinarily no duty to warn of obvious dangers," Justice Liu explained.
The church did have an alternate parking location in a business plaza that was farther away and did not require crossing Marconi Avenue. Vasilenko charged that the church was negligent for not recommending he park there. The high court dismissed the notion that landowners be required to foresee every possible harm that might happen in public.
"If, for example, an invitee had been mugged between the business plaza lot and the church, or had slipped on a puddle on the sidewalk, that invitee might reasonably argue that the swim school lot would have been safer," Justice Liu wrote. "Yet another consideration is that cars parked at a business plaza at night, away from the church, may have been more at risk of break-ins or carjackings."
The high court ultimately decided the impact of imposing liability on landowners for situations such as these would result in churches and businesses not offering parking spaces at all, which the justices found would make the streets less safe.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.