Landowner Does Not Owe Duty to Business Invitee Injured on Adjoining Roadway, Superior Court Rules in Matter of First Impression

01.31.17

In a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in Donald Newell v. Mont. W., 2017 PA Super 15 (Jan. 19, 2017), that a landowner does not owe a duty to its business invitees who are injured on a public roadway adjoining the landowner's property. Robert D. MacMahon, Partner at Weber Gallagher, secured judgment for the defendants in Newell at the trial court level and prevailed in the appeal to the Superior Court.

In Newell, a patron of the defendant landowner's bar/night club attended a concert featuring two bands. Without the defendant landowner's permission, the patron parked his car on another landowner's property, which was located on the East side of Route 309, across the highway from the defendant landowner's venue. The patron left after the first act, and while crossing Route 309 to return to his car, he was struck and killed by an automobile traveling on the highway. The patron's surviving family commenced a negligence action against the landowner contending it "provided insufficient parking for those patronizing its facility, thereby making it necessary for [the patron] to incur the risk of parking on the other side of Route 309 and of crossing Route 309 to reach his car." The trial court granted the landowner's Motion for Summary Judgment, holding the landowner did not have a duty to the patron to warn him about the road or provide safe passage across the highway.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with and affirmed the trial court's ruling for the landowner, holding that "no such duty arises under Pennsylvania law that would form the basis for a negligence action in these circumstances." The Superior Court stated: "[W]e join the majority of other courts that have considered this issue and hold that a landowner may not be held liable to a business invitee for injuries that occur to the invitee on an adjoining highway or other property as a result of breach by the landowner of an alleged duty to provide sufficient parking on its own premises." In reaching this conclusion, the Superior Court relied on prior decisions of Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court (a sister appellate court) and trial courts, as well as several notable decisions by the highest courts in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, among others.

Comment: The result in Newell places Pennsylvania firmly within the majority of jurisdictions that have considered the issue. While not discussed above, the Superior Court supported its holding with analysis of various policy considerations surrounding the issue of whether a landowner owes a patron a duty in these circumstances. For instance, the Superior Court observed that "[t]he potential exposure that would result from [imposing a duty on landowners] would be broad," such as "expos[ing] a landowner to liability if an invitee elects to park at any other dangerous location as well." The Superior Court predicted that the Supreme Court "would not be persuaded to engage in 'judicial policymaking' that would create this new affirmative duty in this case."

 

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