James F. Mahoney, Attorney

Where Not to Park Your Truck in California

A California Court of Appeal decision found a truck driver liable for parking in an otherwise safe and legal manner. The court did say, however, it would have been ok if the rig wasn’t so darn extremely large and the driver wasn't a CDL driver

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Let’s just say avoid parking a CMV anywhere in Cali except maybe in a truck yard.

A California appeals court has found a new way to confound the trucking industry and create a new cause of action against legally parked trucks. In Lawson v Safeway, Inc., et al, the court found Safeway and its driver liable when lawfully parking a tractor-trailer adjacent to a road and in front of a hotel where the driver was staying.

The Safeway driver had parked his tractor trailer off the side of Route 101 in Crescent City, where he had parked previously without incident some 40 times before. There were no signs or markings of any sort prohibiting parking. The units were off the highway and in front of the hotel, somewhat parallel to, but a safe distance from the roadway.

A nearby collision between a pick-up and a three-wheeled motorcycle was blamed on the parked rig, based upon the contorted theory that the tractor-trailer partially obstructed the view of the pick-up driver.

Literally, Plaintiffs’ counsel brought suit against Safeway Inc. on a theory of “unsafe parking.” A jury returned a verdict finding Safeway Inc. 35% comparatively at fault for causing the accident. The verdict was upheld by the California Court of Appeal.

The jury, and later the appeal panel, was persuaded by plaintiff’s expert that the driver had a duty to park not only legally, but safely, considering the length and width of the units. Plaintiff's “commercial driver” expert opined that commercial truck drivers have special licenses and are trained, or should be, to be aware of the risk of blocking other drivers’ sight lines when parking.

The appeals court did remark that drivers should ordinarily have no exposure to liability if they are legally parked; and that parked vehicles often obstruct views of oncoming traffic. They couldn’t stop there, however, going on to say, “but this case is different” because “[it] involves an extremely large commercial truck...and such trucks create a greater than normal risk because by sheer size they obstruct more of the view than smaller vehicles.”

Lawsuits claiming obstructed views are not uncommon, of course. They often include road design claims or overgrown shrubbery. But this decision, coming from California and carrying all the weighted baggage that California cases have in spreading legal theories to the rest of the states, should cause concern among risk and operations managers.

It wouldn’t hurt to remind your fleet that commercial drivers may have a greater duty of care when parking their vehicles and to observe potential obstructions to sightlines on nearby roads (think exit and entrance ramps, specifically).

The Safeway decision creates two vague standards, i.e., “safe parking” and the configuration of “an extremely large vehicle.” Both will be subjected to 20/20 hindsight and “commercial driver experts” every time a crash occurs near a parked tractor or trailer and the real party at fault has limited assets and/or low limits of insurance.