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Court reads between the lines; says parking-lot painter can't be held responsible for crash in which motorcyclist lost his leg

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that there's far more to painting stripes to mark off parking-lot spaces than you might think, enough to make it "bespoke," even, which means a man who striped 21 spaces in a Gardner restaurant's lot does not have to pay any damages to a motorcyclist who alleged the layout of the spaces led to a crash in which he lost his leg.

At issue in the case is a Massachusetts real-estate law known as the statute of repose, which bars suits against architects, engineers and contractors who provide unique interpretations to building projects for "any deficiency or neglect in the design, planning, construction or general administration of an improvement to real property" that arises more than six years after a building or, in this case, a parking lot, has been completed.

The question for the court was whether parking-lot line striping is a unique enough activity that the law should apply to line painters as well, since Andrew Devoll had striped the lot more than six years before the crash in which Adam Smith lost his leg Parker Street in Gardner. Smith charged that the way the spaces were laid out, when coupled with "signs, bushes, a telephone pole, and an electrical box" at the lot's exit, meant a driver coming out of the lot couldn't see him and so drove into him.

Smith's attorney argued that painting lines in a parking lot is such a mundane thing that intended to protect design and building professionals for their unique interpretations of the building art doesn't apply and that therefore Devoll should be made to pay for what happened to his client.

But the appeals court concluded the striping was as much a unique endeavor as putting up a new building, because of the complexities involved in taking a blank slate of asphalt to a modern parking lot, and that the lines Andrew Divoll painted represented "particularized services for the design and construction of particular improvements to particular pieces of real property;" rather, than, say, simply plopping a set of pre-built bleachers around a hockey rink.

Applying this framework to Divoll's parking-lot lines, we conclude that those lines were custom designed for the location, following applicable rules and regulations for the size of parking spaces, placement of handicapped spaces, color of paint to be used, and needs of the business. They were designed by Divoll, or another, for this piece of property alone, accounting for the size of the parking lot, location of the restaurant, and instructions from the property owner's representative. The work relied on individual expertise.

Further, the work most certainly "improved" the restaurant property - another requirement of the statue of repose - the court concluded:

Without the lines, the parking lot was an undifferentiated area of asphalt on which cars might park or drive willy-nilly. The lines imposed order, enhancing safety by providing predictability for drivers and pedestrians who used the parking lot. They added value for the owner of the property by ensuring that the space was efficiently and safely used.

PDF icon Complete ruling96.92 KB


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Standing by for the next appeal.

Voting closed 15

The lines imposed order, enhancing safety by providing predictability for drivers and pedestrians

They don't live or drive here, do they?

Voting closed 21

The parking lines or the motorcycle.

Voting closed 20

I once rode my bike across a newly-painted crosswalk in Groton. The crosswalk was completely filled in with a nice green paint. It turned out to be pretty slick. I didn't crash, but it was momentarily exciting. I expected this story to be about the bike skidding on wet paint, not about a car driver making an unsafe exit from a parking lot.

Voting closed 25

Looking at the googlemap picture in Adam's report, the car driver clearly didn't exercise due caution. I feel bad for the biker losing his leg; that's too severe an outcome for somebody else's lapse of attention, and I understand the incentive to get compensation. Ultimately, though, there's nobody else but the car driver to blame. I guess his personal injury insurance was at or below the minimum.

Voting closed 21

Do you know the address?

Voting closed 15

In the story, there's a link to "signs, bushes, a telephone pole, and an electrical box." Click on that and you'll see the parking lot. The impediments to drivers' sightlines are on the right of the image.

Voting closed 18

If signs, bushes, a telephone pole, and an electrical box were blocking sight lines my guess is that the painting of the parking spots was the least of the problems.

Voting closed 23

I agree, looking at Google Street View, the sign lines for someone exiting are terrible. The sign and electrical boxes look like they line up to completely block the view to the left as you’re exiting. Not sure what the speed limit is there, but if you were going fast down the road cars exiting could be surprised if they didn’t slowly sneak out until they could see what was coming toward them from the left.

Voting closed 12

I wonder who else was sued and what the outcomes were.

Voting closed 13

Architect here and I would agree with this. We hire specialized consultants to lay out lots because it is not as easy as it looks, and yes, there is definitely an art to it if you want the lot to be both efficient and safe.

Voting closed 16