Court Declines to Find Willful and Wanton Conduct by Parking Lot Company in Bicycle Crash - Simpson v. Colonial Parking


February 21, 2012

As a Philadelphia accident lawyer, I know that injuries on someone else's property can be quite serious. These are sometimes called "slip and fall" injuries, and while a slip may sound minor, the fall can cause very serious injuries under the wrong circumstances. In Simpson v. Colonial Parking Inc., Robert Simpson fell from his bicycle after hitting a pothole in a parking lot belonging to Colonial. Simpson had been taking a short cut through the Wilmington, Del. parking lot at the time, not using Colonial's parking services. He sued Colonial, arguing that Colonial had a legal obligation to maintain safe premises. The trial court dismissed his case, finding he was a trespasser on the lot rather than a licensee. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found the issue moot, since Colonial had not engaged in the "willful and wanton conduct" required to make it liable in either case.

Simpson's accident took place in July of 2009. He passed through an ungated entrance to the parking lot in Wilmington and unexpectedly bicycled into a "large pothole." The pothole was marked with an orange traffic cone, but he said he noticed it only after the crash. He sustained personal injuries that were not described and eventually filed suit. His lawsuit claimed Colonial's premises were unsafe, leading to his injuries and breaching a duty owed to him and other visitors by Colonial. At trial, the court held a hearing on cross-motions for summary judgment and found for Colonial. It ruled that Simpson was not a "licensee" (the legal status of a customer or another invited guest) on the property because he had failed to establish implied consent to his presence by Colonial. Instead, Simpson was a trespasser, it ruled, which means Colonial's only duty was to avoid "willful and wanton" conduct -- a lower standard than that for licensees. Simpson appealed.

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment against Simpson -- but not because Simpson was a trespasser. Rather, it said, the lowered "willful and wanton conduct" standard applies to licensees as well as trespassers. Under a 1996 ruling, Hoesch v. National RR Passenger Corp., Delaware expressly adopted the willful and wanton standard for owners and occupiers of commercial and industrial land. This is in contrast to the Second Restatement of Torts that the trial court (and many other states) relied on, which says landowners are liable to licensees if they know or should know of a dangerous condition and fails to fix it or warn licensees. Thus, the trial court reached the correct result even though it incorrectly believed the standard for licensees came from the Second Restatement of Torts. Reminding trial courts that Delaware has a different standard, the court affirmed the lower court's summary judgment.

As a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer, I'm disappointed that our neighbors in Delaware apply such low standards to premises liability -- the section of the law on which this is based. Here in Pennsylvania, the law distinguishes between the duty of a land owner or occupier to invitees, such as customers; licensees, who have permission to be there but no business relationship; and trespassers, who are there without permission. Not surprisingly, trespassers have fewer rights than the other two categories of visitor. Thus, whether Simpson was a trespasser or a licensee would matter very much in Pennsylvania, even though it ultimately didn't matter in his home state. In general, Pennsylvania law requires land owners and occupiers to correct dangerous conditions or post warnings, or they are legally liable for any harm to visitors that results. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I handle these cases in a variety of contexts, including at businesses, private homes and after an act of violence.

If you or someone you love suffered a serious injury on someone else's land and you're ready to hear more about your legal rights, call Rosenbaum & Associates today. For a free consultation, you can send us an email or call toll-free at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7.

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