The perils of parking
Fisherman’s Galley Restaurant is located in Many, Louisiana, on LA Highway 6. On April 3, 2016, Jackie Savell was exiting the restaurant in his van. At the same time, Mary Sepulvado was heading west on Highway 6. As Savell eased his way out onto the highway to make a left turn, Sepulvado’s car collided with Savell’s van.
Sepulvado alleged that she suffered severe injuries as a result of the accident. She filed suit against the restaurant; the owners of the restaurant, Pamela and Terry Tedder; Savell; Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, Savell’s insurer; Landstar Ranger, Inc., the owner of a tractor trailer that allegedly parked on the highway and blocked Savell’s vision; and XYZ Insurance Company, the insurer of Landstar.
In her petition, Sepulvado alleged that the Tedders were liable in allowing customers to constantly park along the state right of way and failing to ensure safe ingress into and egress out of the parking lot.
The Tedders filed a motion for summary judgment on February 16, 2018. They asserted that the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, rather than private citizens, is charged with the duty to enforce traffic laws regarding vehicles parked illegally on the shoulder of a state highway. They also asserted that they did not own the view-obstructing vehicle, nor did they encourage customers to park illegally on the shoulder of the highway adjacent to their restaurant.
On January 31, 2019, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Tedders and dismissed Sepulvado’s claims against them. Sepulvado appealed.
On appeal, Sepulvado claimed that genuine issues of material fact could not be resolved by summary judgment without resorting to credibility determinations, which is impermissible. She argued that questions of fact surrounded the extent of the business activities of Fisherman’s Galley Restaurant that contributed to the creation of the unreasonable risk of harm for vehicles exiting onto Highway 6 and the contribution of the Tedders’ fault in causing the accident.
Although Savell said he never heard of any other accidents at this site, he stated that people often park on the state right of way in front of the restaurant. He personally never parked on the shoulder. The accident occurred during the Sunday lunch hour. After examining photos his daughter took at the scene of the accident, Savell explained that both a large white truck and a car behind it were parked on the shoulder blocking his view. He eased up to the highway but could not see down the highway. He then eased out in front of the truck, which was when he collided with Sepulvado’s vehicle. He explained that he could not see any cars coming from the left, so Sepulvado’s car must have been beside the truck and car and in a blind spot. He accelerated and was trying to get out of the way when Sepulvado’s vehicle hit his van behind the driver’s door. The van then rolled and came to rest on its roof.
Although the Tedders asserted that they did not encourage their customers to park on the shoulder, evidence
existed that they did nothing to discourage it. Pam Tedder and Savell agreed that customers often parked on the shoulder of the highway, especially during the busiest times at the restaurant.
The court recognized that the Louisiana Department of Highways is charged with the duty of regulating the highways of the state and law enforcement officials bear the duty to enforce traffic laws. The court also agreed that private citizens cannot install signs or traffic controls on state-owned highways. The court noted, however, that no law forbids private citizens to install signs on their own property. Furthermore, the court stated, a question of fact existed as to whether ample parking was available during the busy hours at the restaurant. At that point, the court held, enough evidence existed to raise the issue of whether a duty existed on the part of the restaurant owners to take action to remedy the situation, given that customers regularly parked on the shoulder during busy times at the restaurant.
The court held that Sepulvado had presented enough factual support to establish questions of fact as to whether the Tedders had a duty to stop this practice by its customers and whether this practice contributed to this particular accident. The court reversed the judgment of the trial court that granted summary judgment to the Tedders. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
Sepulvado v. Farm Bureau Insurance Company et al.—Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit—November 6, 2019—CA 19-317.