In California, cities have immunity when people are injured while using paved or unpaved trails because of the design or location of the trail. The immunity does not apply when the injuries are caused by a dangerous condition that is unrelated to the trail, however. In Reed v. City of Los Angeles, Cal. Ct. App., Case No. B294531, the courts considered whether a badminton rope stretched across a bicycle trail was an unrelated dangerous condition or could have caused injuries to people regardless of whether they were using the trail.
Factual and procedural background
On Sept. 12, 2015, Sells Reed III was riding his bicycle at 5:30 a.m. on a paved path that was adjacent to some sports fields in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. Some people who were not connected to the City of Los Angeles had stretched a rope of a badminton net across the path. Reed did not see the rope and struck it, causing him to fall backward from his bicycle and to suffer multiple injuries. He filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles, alleging that the city had constructive notice of the existence of a dangerous condition on public property or that the city’s public employees were negligent in the performance of their jobs, resulting in his injuries.
The City of Los Angeles filed a motion for summary judgment. It argued that it was immune from lawsuits under the doctrine of trail immunity. It also argued that even if trail immunity did not apply, it was still not liable because the city did not have constructive or actual notice of the existence of the dangerous condition, and the negligence claim was improper.
After reviewing the city’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court agreed with each of the city’s three arguments. The court granted the motion for summary judgment, and Reed filed an appeal of its decision.
Issue: Whether trail immunity applied to the badminton rope across the trail or if it was an adjacent, unrelated danger to the trail’s design?
On appeal, Reed argued that under Cal. Govt. Code § 835, public entities can be held liable for dangerous conditions on their properties that could reasonably cause a foreseeable risk of injuries to people who are using them when they had actual or constructive notice of the existence of the dangerous condition or when their employees were negligent. He also argued that trail immunity under Cal. Govt. Code § 831.4 did not apply under the specific facts of what happened in his accident. He argued that courts have held that immunity does not apply when the dangerous condition arises from something that is unrelated to the trail’s design and location and is simply adjacent to it.
Rule: Public entities are immune from liability when people are injured while using paved or unpaved trails unless the dangerous condition is unrelated to the trail and could have injured people regardless of whether they were using the trail.
Reed argued that courts have found that immunity applies when injuries are caused because of the design of a trail or its location. He also argued that courts have found that trail immunity does not apply in situations when the dangerous condition is next to a trail and is not related to the trail’s purpose. Reed argued that the dangerous condition in his case was adjacent to the trail and was not related to the purpose of the trail. He cited Amberger-Warren v. City of Piedmont, 143 Cal.App.4th 1074 (2006) to show an example of when the court found that immunity applied. He also cited Garcia v. American Golf Corp., 11 Cal.App.5th 532 (2017) as an example of when the courts have found that trail immunity does not apply.
The court first reviewed the court’s decision in Amberger-Warren. In that case, an unleashed dog ran into a woman on a trail, causing her to slip in some debris and fall down. When she fell, she landed halfway off of the trail and grabbed a cement edge of the trail to keep herself from falling down an adjacent hill. The woman argued that her injuries were caused by dangerous conditions other than the trail, including the fact that dogs were allowed to roam freely in the park without leashes, the location of the trial next to a hill, failing to install guardrails, and allowing debris to accumulate. In that case, the court found that trail immunity applied because public entities are not responsible for the negligence of third parties alone. It also held that accumulated debris on a trail falls under the immunity provision.
The court then looked at the decision in the Garcia case. In that case, a woman was pushing her baby in a stroller on a trail next to a golf course. A golf ball that was hit from the course struck her baby in the stroller, causing serious injuries. The court found that the trail immunity doctrine did not apply because the dangerous condition presented by errant golf balls could injure people regardless of whether they were using the trail. All of the factors that led to the baby’s injuries were unrelated to the trail. By contrast, several of the factors that contributed to the woman’s injuries in the Amberger-Warren case were directly related to the trail.
After reviewing those two cases, the court then analyzed Reed’s lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. It found that a badminton net is not an inherently dangerous condition by itself. However, when it is stretched across a bicycle trail, it becomes a dangerous condition. This meant that the danger was directly related to the trail’s location and the trail itself and that others would not be injured by the net without the trail.
The court affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case against the City of Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles was awarded its costs on appeal.
Get help from an experienced personal injury attorney
While the city may be liable for certain injuries that occur on trails, immunity will apply in many situations. If you have suffered serious injuries while you were using a bicycle or hiking trail because of dangerous conditions that were not related to the trail itself, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit to recover compensation for your losses. An experienced attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers can review the facts of your case and provide you with an analysis of whether your claim has legal merits. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation by filling out our contact form or calling us at 310.592.0445.