The tenth report posted herein in February 2017, entitled The Chicken Did It, was about a 2016 case out of California in which the California appellate court reversed for further proceedings a case involving over flow parking. Well, there has been another one. However, the lesson from these two cases is radically different. The California case reversed for further proceedings because the church gave no warning about the busy street and took no other action to protect people jaywalking to the church. This report is about the opposite.
In Charney v Reitz, Slip Op. (PA Supp. 2018), the church had only four paved parking spaces but was able to use a commercial parking lot across the street for over flow parking. The use of the parking lot across the street was a practice that persisted for decades. But, the street to be crossed, which may have not been in the distant past, became a very busy street. The church sometimes had police or firefighters acting as crossing guards. The church used reflective cones to warn drivers. In a footnote, the court even reported the church tried to take other safety actions but was blocked by the state’s department of transportation. What was the church’s reward for this diligence? The court found the church voluntarily undertook the duty to safeguard persons crossing the street to attend church events. The remand would be a jury trial over whether the church carried out its duty adequately in the fatality pedestrian auto accident that was the subject of the case. The deceased was a church member and was actually the person that purchased the reflective cones, so the deceased knew about the risks of crossing the street. But, the deceased was 84 years of age.
Trying to read the two cases side by side is disheartening because the church that did allegedly nothing, according to the court in California as reported in the February 2017 post, faced the same trial as the church reported in this post that did several things and may have been stopped from doing more. Of course, as a practical matter, the church that tried to address the problem may with the right jury find exoneration. Both churches hopefully had adequate insurance coverage and their legal fees were probably paid by those insurers. In addition to making certain their insurance policies covered use of an over flow parking lot, the churches should petition, maybe repeatedly, state, county or city traffic authorities to install flashing yellow warning signs, an officially installed and painted cross walk, and other safeguards. While the government in most states cannot be successfully joined as a party, they make a great “empty chair defendant.” Your trial counsel can explain that one to you.