Wednesday, September 9, 2008
Court of Appeal Rules for County in Bike Path Suit
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A bicycle rider’s claim that the county is responsible for injuries he suffered while riding on a path in Marina del Rey is barred by absolute immunity, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
In an unpublished opinion by Justice Walter Croskey, Div. Three rejected William Gornik’s claim that the path was not a recreational “trail,” as that term is used in Government Code Sec. 831.4.
The statute provides that a public entity or employee is not liable for injury caused by a “condition of...[a]ny unpaved road which provides access to...hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas,” or “[a]ny trial used for the above purposes.”
Gornik was injured near the intersection of Fiji Way and Admiralty Way when, he alleges, his bicycle struck a portion of the path “that was uneven, cracked, and deformed,” causing him to “fall violently.” The county, he claims, negligently failed to maintain the road.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole granted the county’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, based on absolute immunity.
The trial judge was correct, Croskey said.
Croskey explained that while the statute is “potentially ambiguous,” the immunity applies to trails used for recreation, as well as those used to access recreational activities. Earlier cases have consistently applied that interpretation and applied the immunity to bicycle paths, he noted.
The justice went on to reject the argument that Gornik should have been granted leave to amend, in order to allege that the path was an easement of way providing access to unimproved property—the beach—thus falling under a statutory provision that limits immunity to cases in which the public entity has given adequate warning of the condition.
The path, Croskey said, is used solely for cycling, not for beach access. Even if it were used for both, he added, the county would gain the benefit of the absolute immunity for recreational use.
Attorneys on appeal were Thomas V. Girardi and Shawn J. McCann of Girardi and Keese for the plaintiff and Principal Deputy County Counsel Brian T. Chu for the defendant.
The case is Gornik v. County of Los Angeles, B200394.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company