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Shortcuts and Abrasions
by Ron Davis

A woman who suffered injuries after tripping over a wheel stop at a Long Island, NY, shopping center parking lot has tried in vain to blame the center’s owners for the mishap.

The wheel stop that caused the woman to trip is one of many that the shopping center owners had installed to help motorists park their cars efficiently. But because wheel stops rise several inches from a parking lot surface, they can present an obstacle for pedestrians who attempt shortcuts to reach their destinations.

And apparently the woman who was injured at the Long Island shopping center attempted such a shortcut. As a result, she either failed to see one of the wheel stops or she misjudged the clearance required for negotiation.

Her injuries from her fall resulted in a lawsuit against the owners of the shopping center. Moreover, she sued the developers of the center, as well as the contractor that installed the wheel stops.

New York State law requires property owners to maintain their premises in a “reasonably safe condition.” The law also provides, however, that a property owner is not duty-bound to protect or warn against an open and obvious condition that is not “inherently dangerous.”

In previous lawsuits of that type in New York State, the courts have ruled that wheel stops or concrete parking-lot dividers that are clearly visible “present no unreasonable risk of harm.” So the shopping center owners in this case attempted to show that the wheel stop over which the woman tripped was not an inherently dangerous condition and was readily observable to walkers.

In response, the injured woman offered the sworn statement of a specialist in industrial construction in hopes that he would confirm that the wheel stops in the center’s parking lot violated accepted industry standards.

A New York State court rejected the specialist’s statement as “insufficient to raise an issue of fact” that the stops were not up to industry standards. The judge then ruled in favor of the shopping center owners, developers, and contractors. The injured woman appealed.

A New York State appellate court agreed with the lower-court decision and ruled, “The wheel stop in the shopping mall parking lot, over which the woman tripped and sustained injuries, was not an inherently dangerous condition and was readily observable to those employing reasonable use of their senses. Thus, the property owner, development corporations, and contractor who installed the wheel stops could not be held liable for negligence.” (Giambruno v. Wilbur F. Breslin Development Corp., 867 N.Y.S.2d 202)

Decision: November 2008
Published: December 2008



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