The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that there's far more to painting stripes to mark off parking-lot spaces than you might think, enough to make it "bespoke," even, which means a man who striped 21 spaces in a Gardner restaurant's lot does not have to pay any damages to a motorcyclist who alleged the layout of the spaces led to a crash in which he lost his leg.
At issue in the case is a Massachusetts real-estate law known as the statute of repose, which bars suits against architects, engineers and contractors who provide unique interpretations to building projects for "any deficiency or neglect in the design, planning, construction or general administration of an improvement to real property" that arises more than six years after a building or, in this case, a parking lot, has been completed.
The question for the court was whether parking-lot line striping is a unique enough activity that the law should apply to line painters as well, since Andrew Devoll had striped the lot more than six years before the crash in which Adam Smith lost his leg Parker Street in Gardner. Smith charged that the way the spaces were laid out, when coupled with "signs, bushes, a telephone pole, and an electrical box" at the lot's exit, meant a driver coming out of the lot couldn't see him and so drove into him.
Smith's attorney argued that painting lines in a parking lot is such a mundane thing that intended to protect design and building professionals for their unique interpretations of the building art doesn't apply and that therefore Devoll should be made to pay for what happened to his client.
But the appeals court concluded the striping was as much a unique endeavor as putting up a new building, because of the complexities involved in taking a blank slate of asphalt to a modern parking lot, and that the lines Andrew Divoll painted represented "particularized services for the design and construction of particular improvements to particular pieces of real property;" rather, than, say, simply plopping a set of pre-built bleachers around a hockey rink.
Applying this framework to Divoll's parking-lot lines, we conclude that those lines were custom designed for the location, following applicable rules and regulations for the size of parking spaces, placement of handicapped spaces, color of paint to be used, and needs of the business. They were designed by Divoll, or another, for this piece of property alone, accounting for the size of the parking lot, location of the restaurant, and instructions from the property owner's representative. The work relied on individual expertise.
Further, the work most certainly "improved" the restaurant property - another requirement of the statue of repose - the court concluded:
Without the lines, the parking lot was an undifferentiated area of asphalt on which cars might park or drive willy-nilly. The lines imposed order, enhancing safety by providing predictability for drivers and pedestrians who used the parking lot. They added value for the owner of the property by ensuring that the space was efficiently and safely used.