Not Ideal But Not to Blame
by Ron Davis
The family of a handicapped woman whose car suddenly accelerated at a Kentucky shopping center and ended up in a nearby river has failed in its attempt to blame her resulting death on the centerís owner.
The shopping center, located in Harlan, had provided handicapped parking near the front entrance to the centerís anchor tenant, a supermarket. And the woman, who suffered from a muscular, neurological disorder (Huntingtonís chorea), had parked there while shopping in that store.
To the rear of her vehicle and 20 feet away, however, is a 38-foot grass embankment with an 18-percent grade. A road is located at the bottom of that grade, and beyond that is a 35-foot grass embankment that leads to a drop-off into the Cumberland River.
After leaving the store, the woman started her car and placed the transmission in reverse to prepare to back from the handicapped space. The car then accelerated at a high rate of speed, crossed the parking area, sped down the embankment, crossed the road, and didnít stop until it landed on its roof, upside-down in the river.
The woman never regained consciousness and died the next day at a Knoxville hospital.
In its lawsuit against the shopping center owner, the family claimed that the handicapped parking spaces are too close to the drop-off and that the design of the parking spaces does not provide reasonable access for handicapped patrons.
In response, the shopping center owner argued that it had in fact complied with all provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A Kentucky appellate court, in ruling in favor of the shopping center owner, explained, "The placement of the parking spaces was not a cause-in-fact of the accident, and it was not reasonably foreseeable that the placement of the parking lot adjacent to a sloped embankment would pose a risk to patrons or that a handicapped patron would be injured by driving her vehicle into the river. The evidence was not sufficient to create a material issue of fact on causation involving the design of the parking lot because it was not a substantial factor in causing the accident." (Lewis v. H & R Corporation, Ky.App. 56 S.W.3d 432])
Decision: September 2001
Published: March 2002