Law Review: ‘Trail immunity’ prevents recovery for fall on a public trail
Our Tahoe-Truckee community is active and adventuresome. We are out biking, hiking, skiing and doing everything that can be done in the outdoors. On the other hand, our nation is sometimes described as being “litigious.”
What are the rules of the road – or trail – as the case may be?
If you have a fall on a trail and are injured, do you have a good chance at prevailing if you sue? Read on.
Sally Loeb was injured when she tripped on an uneven concrete pathway in the San Diego County-owned Guajome Regional Park. She was walking to the restroom from a barbecue at her daughter’s campsite and she fell on an uneven section of the concrete pathway. Those are the facts. Should she recover?
PUBLIC ENTITIES GENERALLY LIABLE
In California, a public entity is “generally liable for an injury caused by dangerous condition of its property if the public entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.” That is the good news, at least if you are Sally Loeb.
‘TRAIL IMMUNITY’ LAW
On the other hand, Government Code section 831.4 provides in part: “A public entity … is not liable for an injury caused by a condition of (8)(a) any unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, … water sports, recreational or scenic areas …, and (b) any trail used for the above purposes.”
That is the so-called Trail Immunity law which provides immunities to public entities when folks are injured on trails providing access to recreational activities. The law covers negligent maintenance of trails as well but is an absolute immunity from liability for injuries caused by a physical defect of a trail. The immunity applies whether or not the trial is paved under court cases.
SOUND PUBLIC POLICY
Public policy behind the Trail Immunity statute providing immunity from lawsuits is to encourage public entities to keep their properties open for public use. If every time someone fell on a public trail, they were able to successfully sue, public trails would be closed.
The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal in this San Diego case ruled in favor of the County of San Diego and against Sally Loeb. The court concluded the uneven concrete pathway she fell on was frequently used for recreation purposes by members of the public and does qualify for the Trail Immunity statute defense. I have no problems with this court decision.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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