The Truth, the Whole Truth And Nothing But the Truth
Besides advising clients on ways to enhance parking services and preserve financial resources, many parking consultants also provide expert testimony services for parties engaged in litigation. The same knowledge and experience used to plan parking facilities and assist with parking operations are also very useful in providing professional insights when parties are involved in some legal dispute regarding parking.
Cases can range from deciding fault for an injury that occurred in a facility to determining the responsible party for a structural failure.
In a recently concluded case, a woman tripped on a concrete wheel-stop while returning to her vehicle parked in a lot owned by a “big box” store. The trip resulted in injuries to her and subsequent medical expenses. She sued for reimbursement of the medical expenses and compensation for pain and suffering.
I was hired by the plaintiff’s attorney to examine the parking lot and render an opinion as to the installation of the wheel-stops in the lot.
I visited the site, and with two attorneys present, conducted an on-site investigation. I measured the dimensions of the parking stalls, the concrete wheel-stops, and the distance between the stops and the store. All measurements were within acceptable standards. What was not common, however, was the placement of the wheel-stops in relation to the stalls.
The store had installed one wheel-stop for every two parking spaces. The stop, therefore, was positioned between the parked vehicles where people sometimes walked.
I drove my vehicle into the stall where the plaintiff had parked on the day of the injury. It was then that I experienced a second problem with the lot. There were small holes or depressions in the surface of the lot in front of the wheel-stops.
The depressions would simulate the sensation of a wheel-stop to the driver, thus causing
the vehicle to park further
away from the wall. This
invited pedestrian traffic in an area where a concrete wheel-stop was partly hidden by parked cars.
I concluded that it was the failure of the store to maintain its parking lot and the uncommon installation of the wheel-stops that created a hazardous situation. The store, therefore, was responsible for the injury, I concluded.
Nearly a year later, the case went to trial. I was called as an expert witness on behalf of the plaintiff.
The first part of my testimony focused on establishing my professional credentials in the parking industry. This is important because only an expert can give opinions during a trial. All other witnesses must have actual knowledge of the events. The second part of my testimony provided my opinions as to the causes of the injury.
It was obvious that the defense attorney had read my report very thoroughly. During cross-examination, he pointed out statements that he believed were contradictory. He also showed me pictures that I had taken and tried to demonstrate that the person was at fault for not seeing the wheel-stop.
For this case, the jury did side with the plaintiff and awarded damages. Other times, the outcomes have been different.
In another case, I has hired by a hotel developer to render an opinion as to the “merchantable quality” of a parking structure. The developer had an agreement with the city’s development agency in which it agreed to construct a hotel on top of a parking structure provided by the agency. The agency was to provide a parking structure of “sufficient design” to allow it to be used for the intended purpose — parking for hotel guests.
Prior to the opening of the garage, the developer toured the parking facility and believed it was not suitable for its hotel guests. The agency, of course, disagreed. The parties were unable to negotiate their differences, and so the legal battle began.
I inspected the parking structure, which was now open for business and the hotel was nearing completion. The building footprint was small, and it was obvious that the design team had to be creative in order to supply the required number of spaces.
Some of that creativity, however, resulted in some uncommon parking decisions. Consider these findings:
On many levels, a two-way traffic pattern was used with angled parking. As one might expect, vehicles would back out of a parking space and proceed to drive the wrong way.
A majority of spaces had a width of less than 8.5 feet. A few were as narrow as 7.25 feet wide.
One location had a turning radius of 20.7 feet — 3 feet less than any known standard. I estimated that at least 30% of hotel guests would require excessive maneuvering to negotiate that turn.
Guests encountered a traffic crossover when arriving and exiting the facility. Exiting vehicles had to stop at the bottom of a steep ramp, wait for incoming vehicles, and then turn left to exit.
I concluded that these design abnormalities are not commonly encountered in other parking facilities built for hotel guests. As a result, the parking facility was only marginally sufficient for use by hotel guests.
At trial, I testified as to my findings and opinions regarding the usability of the parking facility for hotel guests. The defense had me confirm that the facility was in compliance with local building codes in regard to the dimensions of the parking spaces. My findings, however, were that the facility did not comply with the terms of the agreement, not that the facility violated a building code.
As part of the trial, the defense produced a document that was signed by the plaintiff. The document indicated that the agency provided a copy of the parking plans to the developer and the developer agreed to the specifications. In other words, the developer had an opportunity to raise objections to the parking plans but failed to do so, and approved the plans that were used for the parking facility. The judge cited that document as a key piece of evidence in his ruling for the defense.
In both cases, using a parking consultant to begin with could have eliminated the need for litigation. In the first case, the consultant most likely would have advised the retailer against the use of any wheel-stops and, if they had to be used, to install one for each space. In the second case, the parking consultant could have provided design and parking geometric options to make the facility more user-friendly for the hotel guests.
The best time to employ a parking consultant is before the need arises. A contingency agreement with a parking consulting firm can provide a readily available resource for your organization. Even for a one-time assignment, the use of a parking consultant is an investment that will often save “time, a fine and a dime” (staff resources, penalties and revenue).
Chuck Cullen is Senior Associate for The Integrity Group and Chairman of the NPA Parking Consultants Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.