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A Better Partnership
December 21, 2012

COA Opinion: The highway exception to governmental immunity covers parallel parking spaces

In Yono v. Department of Transportation, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that governmental liability for the portion of highways 'designed for vehicular travel' in MCL 691.1402(1) extends to parallel parking spaces. The plaintiff broke her ankle while walking in a parallel parking space along highway M-22 in Suttons Bay and sued for her injuries. The Department of Transportation moved to dismiss on the grounds of governmental immunity, claiming the parallel parking area is outside of the highway exception to governmental tort liability because vehicles do not use the lanes as a thoroughfare. The trial court denied the motion.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the highway ' including the portion designated for parallel parking ' is a contiguous whole, and the portion where parallel parking is permitted is not physically separated from the center of the highway by a median or other barrier. The court also reasoned that the Department's interpretation of the phrase 'designed for vehicular travel' could exclude other areas not designed to be a thoroughfare such as median u-turn lanes, left-turn lanes, or on and off ramps. Further, vehicles must travel on parallel parking spaces in order to park, and may travel on them in some instances such as passing slowed or stopped traffic on the left or to make a right-hand turn. Based on this reasoning, the majority concluded that the highway exception extends to parallel parking spaces.

Judge Talbot dissented, relying on Michigan Supreme Court interpretation of the term 'travel,' in which the Court cautioned against a broad definition of the term, saying it should not include 'traversing even the smallest distance.' Grimes v. Dep't of Trans., 475 Mich. 75, 89 (2006). Judge Talbot suggested that the majority mischaracterized the Department's purported definition of the lanes designated for vehicular travel and that, in this case, the parking lanes were clearly delineated and should not come within the highway exception's scope. Thus, Judge Talbot would have granted governmental immunity.

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