Is a Bar Responsible for Injuries Caused by a Motorcycle Parked on the Bar’s Sidewalk?

Jerad M. Zarnoch sustained very serious injuries when he was struck by a motorcycle which had been parked on the sidewalk in front of The Varick Bar and Grill. Mr. Zarnoch was standing on the sidewalk when Jeffrey J. Williams got on his motorcycle and seconds later Mr. Zarnoch was pinned against the building.

Mr. Zarnoch sued Mr. Williams but (looking for an additional insurance coverage) also sued The Varick Bar and Grill alleging that because of the special use doctrine, the bar should be responsible for his injuries. The special use doctrine is a legal principle that transfers the duty to keep public sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition from the municipality to the landowner when permission has been given, by a municipal authority, to the landowner to interfere with a street solely for private use in a way that is not connected with the public use.

If The Varick Bar and Grill had a permit from the municipality allowing it to use the sidewalk for parking motorcycles, the bar would become responsible for maintaining the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition. However, The Varick Bar and Grill did not have authority from the municipality to use the sidewalk for its own private parking lot.

The Supreme Court of the State of New York agreed that the bar owed a duty to Mr. Zarnoch to keep the “sidewalk motorcycle parking lot” safe and a jury awarded Mr. Zarnoch a substantial amount of money. The bar appealed and The Appellate Division reversed the trial court, setting aside the verdict against the defendants and dismissing the complaint.

The Appellate Division ruled that the special use doctrine does not apply because there was no defective condition in the sidewalk which caused the accident and the bar did not have a permit or authority to utilize the sidewalk as a motorcycle parking lot.

Without municipal authority to use the sidewalk for parking motorcycles, The Appellate Division said that the bar “had no duty to maintain, repair, supervise or control the sidewalk with respect to vehicles parked on it. Plaintiff’s (Mr. Zarnoch) position on the sidewalk ‘was no different from that of any other passerby’ using the public sidewalk.”

Thus, if The Varick Bar and Grill had a permit allowing motorcycles to be parked on the sidewalk, it would have been liable to maintain the sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition. However, even if they had a permit they would not have been liable because The Appellate Division found that there was no sidewalk defect that caused the injuries.