Law Review: Public trail immunity law protects from lawsuits
We live in a high recreation area. Locals and visitors alike enjoy the outdoors whether it be for skiing, boarding, biking, hiking, whatever. We have some of the best off-road trails and bike paths anywhere.
The California Legislature passed Government Code section 831.4 to protect municipalities from injuries caused on public paths and trails used for access for recreational pursuits.
BICYCLIST “CLOTHESLINED” ON PATH
Sells Clyde Reed, III, was riding his bicycle on a paved path adjacent to a sports field in MacArthur Park in the Los Angeles area early in the morning of Sept. 12, 2015, when he rode into a rope attached to a badminton net which was stretched across the path. Reed was essentially “clotheslined” suffering serious injuries. The path and MacArthur Park were owned by the City of Los Angeles, but the badminton net was put up by third parties.
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DANGEROUS CONDITION OF PUBLIC PROPERTY
Reed sued the City for his injuries claiming the City had allowed a dangerous condition of public property and for negligence — the City had fallen below the standard of care for maintaining a path for public use.
Los Angeles defended arguing it was immune from liability based on Government Code section 831.4 the trail immunity doctrine.
The trial court agreed with Los Angeles. Reed appealed to the Second District Court of Appeal.
GOVERNMENT CODE SECTION 831.4
Government Code section 831.4 was enacted to encourage municipalities to provide paved and unpaved paths and trails for general use by providing an immunity from lawsuits from injuries suffered on trails and paths, even paved paths. Here is a portion of the code:
“A public entity … is not liable for an injury caused by a condition of: Any unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas and which is not a … city or county street or highway … the trail immunity applies to trails that are used solely for access to such activities. The immunity applies whether or not the trail is paved.”
The question in this case came down to whether Reed’s injuries were a result of the condition of the trail. If the accident occurred because of the condition of the trail, the City would be immune.
Reed, however argued the courts have found immunity for injuries that arise from “the design or location of the trail” and also “where injury was caused by a dangerous condition adjacent to the trail that is unrelated to the trail’s purpose.”
Reed cited a case where a plaintiff was walking on a pathway through a public park with a branch fell off a tree and struck her, a case we wrote about years ago. The court concluded that the negligently maintained Eucalyptus tree, as the court determined, was independent of the trail which ran through Mission Bay Park, so the trail immunity statute did not apply, the injured party was allowed to take her case to a jury.
The Court of Appeal determined the dangerous condition of a badminton net stretched across a trail was inherently connected to and existed only because of its connection with the trail, thus the doctrine of trail immunity barred Reed’s claims against the City.
As we have previously written, there is also an immunity for trails on private property.
(NOTE: Porter Simon offices remain open during this unfortunate coronavirus situation. Call, text or email with any legal issues or to reschedule an appoint, as office visits are strongly discouraged.)
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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