Tuesday, May 22, 2007
L.A. Not Liable to Cyclist Who Crashed on City’s Bikeway, C.A. Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The City of Los Angeles has absolute immunity for injuries suffered by a cyclist who collided with a chain link fence upon exiting the Los Angeles River Bikeway in Griffith Park, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight rejected David Prokop’s contention that the city can be held responsible for damages resulting from its defective design of a class I bikeway.
Prokop alleged that while cycling along the path, east of Victory Blvd., he sought to exit through an opening provided for bicyclists. When he attempted to cycle through the opening, at a spot where a message on the pavement says “WALK BIKE,” he ran into the fence, suffering a severe laceration to his forehead, loss of consciousness, and neck pain.
He contended that cyclists are forced to curve sharply several times in order to exit the path and avoid the fence, and that the fence is too close to the path. The city, he alleged, created the dangerous condition and knew or should have known that it was placing cyclists in peril.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu granted summary judgment, citing Farnham v. City of Los Angeles, (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1097. The court there held that a class I bikeway, as defined in Streets and Highways Code Sec. 890.4, is a “trail” within the meaning of Sec. 831.4(b).
The latter section grants public entities absolute immunity from liability for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition on a “trail used for” certain purposes, “including...all types of vehicular riding,” or on an unpaved road that provides access to such activities.
Justice Paul Boland, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct, noting that a series of cases have held that bike paths, both paved and unpaved, are trails and that absolute immunity applies as a result. In doing so, he rejected the argument that Farnham, which dealt with an accident on the Sepulveda Basin Bikeway along the perimeter of Balboa Park in the San Fernando Valley, should be overruled or distinguished.
Prokop’s expert insisted that the gate where the injury occurred does not comply with the criteria set out in the California Highway Design Manual, as required by the California Bicycle Transportation Act. But even if that is so, Boland explained, the immunity has not been waived because Government Code Sec. 815 makes clear that a statute granting immunity takes precedence over any enactment purporting to impose liability on a public entity.
Boland acknowledged that Prokop’s suit differed from Farnham in some respects, including that the latter case dealt with an alleged defect in the path rather than a gate. But the result is the same, the justice said.
“No authority concludes that the ‘condition’ of a trail excludes conditions relating to its design,” the jurist wrote. “Indeed, the contrary is the case.”
Attorneys on appeal were Jonathan B. Cole and Matthew F. Blumkin of Nemecek & Cole and Karen K. Coffin-Brent of Karen K. Coffin Professional Corporation for the plaintiff and Deputy City Attorney Blithe S. Bock for the defendant.
The case is Prokop v. City of Los Angeles, 07 S.O.S. 2533.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company