No vehicles in the park, because in New York a parking lot is a highway

June 2nd, 2011

In Groninger v. Village of Mamaroneck, the New York Court of Appeals (the highest state Court) was confronted with a seemingly simple question: Is a parking lot owned by the village a highway?

The Plaintiff slipped and fell in the icy parking lot. She sued the Village. The Village defended that it did not receive advance notice about the icy conditions, and did not cause it, and therefore cannot be sued. New York sovereign immunity law lists 6 locations that require advance notice of defect: sidewalks, crosswalks, streets, highways, bridges and culverts. If the Court found that the parking lot was a highway, then the Village would need advance notice before liability could be found.

Shockingly, in a 4-3 opinion, the Court found that a parking is in fact a highway, as it serves the “functional purpose” of a highway, “open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.”

The parking lot here serves the “functional purpose” of a “highway,” which Vehicle and Traffic Law § 118 broadly defines as “[t]he entire width between the boundary lines of every waypublicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use ofthe public for purposes of vehicular travel.” It was owned and maintained by the Village and was accessible to the general public for vehicular travel.

Therefore, the plaintiff cannot sue, as there was no advance notice.

The dissent noted that the majority’s holding is so obviously unsound that it “hardly . . . merit[s] serious discussion.”

It is so obvious as hardly to merit serious discussionthat a parking lot does not fullfill the same function as a”highway.” As everyone knows, the dominant purpose of a parkinglot is to accommodate stationary, i.e., parked, vehicles. By contrast, the precisely opposite dominant purpose of a highway is to enable vehicles to move with a degree of expedition. While a parking lot may be entered and exited by public roads the two types of facilities are notable for their essentially discontinuous purposes. Completely absent in the relationship between highways and parking facilities is the continuity, indeedvirtual identity of purpose, upon which we justified the particular equivalence drawn in Woodson.

Bizarre. So if a parking lot is a highway, is a baby carriage a vehicle in the park?

H/T How Appealing