Written By Chris Dolan and Emile Davis
This week’s question comes from Josh in San Francisco, CA, who asks: I was leaving a store last Friday and was in the parking lot heading toward my car. As I walked, I looked up to see where I had parked. I tripped over one of those parking block things at the end of a parking space. I went down and scraped my knee and hands, but thankfully, I was mostly okay. But it got me thinking about how many of those things are everywhere. If someone is seriously hurt tripping on one of those, do they have a lawsuit?
I am happy to hear you were not severely injured. I can tell you that we have represented many pedestrians, like yourself, as well as bicyclists, who have unexpectedly encountered a parking block, causing injury. Parking blocks, or wheel stops, as they are sometimes known, are the small barriers used at the end of parking spaces to assist drivers with parking their vehicles. They are one of the hazards we see regularly.
To understand how that works, in a legal sense, we must look at the many factors determining if the wheel stop would form the basis of a lawsuit. When those blocks are in a privately owned area, the lawsuit would be known as a “premises liability.” It would be a “dangerous condition of public property” in a publicly owned area. The central part of either of those cases is the same – Did the block’s placement create a foreseeable risk of harm?
As you described, parking blocks are often used in parking lots to prevent vehicle encroachment into an opposite parking stall or onto sidewalks. They are not designed to be an actual barrier to stop a vehicle but to notify a driver that they have reached the end of the space.
We all have expectations about where we expect to see parking blocks. People expect them to be there and can account for that when walking or cycling. They create less of a hazard when neatly lined along a curb or in rows at the end of defined parking spaces. When a person’s expectations of placement are met and they have the ability to see with time to react, it is easy to navigate through or around wheel stops.
However, when the placement diverges from expectations, it can create a more dangerous situation. For instance, if the block is at the end of a parking stall, but in the middle, or if it is not centered within the stall, placed off to one side, it is much less likely that people will be able to anticipate and avoid encountering the hazard. A parking block in a completely unexpected location, such as being placed on a bicycle path or at the end of a trailhead, it becomes an even greater hazard.
You must be able to see a parking block to avoid it. Therefore, sufficient lighting that allows visual recognition of parking blocks is essential. In addition to illuminating the area, the parking blocks must stand out from the underlying pavement to avoid tripping. You may have noticed that parking blocks are often made of light-colored concrete, which stands out against the dark pavement below them. This contrast in color helps to make the blocks more visible. They can be made even more visible by adding reflective stickers, or paint, in a contrasting color.
In a parking lot, visibility is crucial because people tend to focus on finding their vehicle or watching out for moving vehicles. This makes it challenging to pay attention to where they are walking, and any unexpected environmental changes can be risky. If a block does not have a contrasting color, it can blend in with the surroundings and become difficult to spot.
If you, or someone you know, is injured by tripping, cycling, or otherwise encountering a wheel stop, or parking block, have them call an attorney experienced in this area of law, such as the Dolan Law Firm, to evaluate their claim.