Parking on sidewalk can cause legal woes

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Pittsburghers, be aware: Parking a vehicle on a sidewalk can be considered negligence on its face if the plaintiff was injured while walking along the sidewalk -- but not while either entering or exiting the vehicle, the Superior Court has ruled.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Superior Court ruled this month that because a plaintiff will not be able to charge an ambulance owner with "per se" negligence after she tripped exiting the vehicle when it was parked on a sidewalk.

A state statute (75 Pa.C.S. 3353) prohibits parking on the sidewalk.

Judge Mary Jane Bowes wrote the memorandum opinion in Molina v. American Patriot Ambulance Service, which upholds the trial court's decision. She was joined by Judges Paula Francisco Ott and Eugene B. Strassburger III.

"The purpose of that particular provision is to prevent the obstruction of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk," Judge Bowes wrote. "The prohibition against parking on the sidewalk is not calculated to protect a person alighting from the illegally parked obstructing vehicle, but the pedestrian who must leave the safety of the sidewalk and proceed either into the street or upon adjacent property to avert the obstruction."

According to Judge Bowes, Mayra Molina had accompanied her grandmother in an ambulance owned by American Patriot Ambulance Service Inc. The driver parked the ambulance on the 30-foot-wide sidewalk across from the Temple University Hospital entrance.

On-site personnel had instructed him to park on the sidewalk because the parking spaces were filled.

Since state statute 3353 generally prohibits the stopping, standing and parking of a vehicle in certain places, including on a sidewalk, Ms. Molina argued American Patriot Ambulance was negligent per se for instructing the driver to park the vehicle on the sidewalk. However, during pretrial motions, the trial court ruled that because Ms. Molina was not a pedestrian, violation of the statute was not negligence per se.

During deliberations, the jury submitted a question asking whether it is illegal to park on the sidewalk.

The court said that, while in general it is illegal, the legality was irrelevant to its considerations. The jury found no negligence.

Ms. Molina sought a new trial, contending that the court erred. She contended that in addition to pedestrians using sidewalks, the statute was meant to protect passengers using sidewalks to enter, exit, load or unload vehicles.

American Patriot Ambulance argued the statute deals with obstruction of access to either pedestrian walkways or vehicle roadways, and that Ms. Molina was not a pedestrian when she was exiting the vehicle.

Lee Rosenfeld of Messa & Associates, who represented Ms. Molina, and Gerard Lipski of Campbell, Lipski & Dochney, who represented American Patriot Ambulance, did not return phone calls for comment.


Max Mitchell: mmitchell@alm.com or 215-557-2354. Read more articles like this at www.thelegalintelligencer.com.

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