Thursday, January 14, 2016
No Liability for Death on Bikeway—Court of Appeal
Justices Say Sovereign Immunity Applies to ‘Recreational Trail’
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A bikeway connecting the UC Santa Cruz campus to the city’s downtown is a recreational trail for purposes of sovereign immunity, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices certified for publication yesterday their December 15 opinion in favor of the university, holding that it could not be held liable for the 2011 death of a student who was killed on the downhill portion of the bikeway while returning from an evening class.
Adrian Burgueno, 21, was described as an avid cyclist. According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, he was found unconscious by another cyclist after crashing and died the next day.
In an amended complaint, Burgueno’s mother and sister alleged that the Great Meadow Bikeway was in a dangerous condition, for which the university was liable. They claimed UC had actual knowledge that the bikeway was unsafe, particularly at night, and that barriers should have been installed to prevent nighttime use and the public warned of the dangers of using the path.
Attempting to plead around the absolute recreational trail immunity of Government Code §831.4, they claimed that the trail was used for transportation, not recreation.
The UC moved for summary judgment. It offered evidence that the trail was used for recreational purposes, such as to access mountain bike paths in the redwood forests above the campus, as well as for basic transportation between town and campus.
Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Paul M. Marigonda granted the motion for summary judgment, and Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed that the immunity applied as a matter of law.
The justice rejected the argument that even if some users accessed the bikeway for recreational purposes, the immunity should not apply because the primary use was not recreational.
“We are not persuaded that the use of a trail for both recreational and non-recreational purposes precludes trail immunity under section 831.4,” the jurist wrote.
She cited Hartt v. County of Los Angeles (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 1391, holding that the statute immunized the county from liability for a wrongful death claim that arose from a bicycle accident on a park trail that was used for both recreation and access for service vehicles.
In this case, Bamattre-Manoukian said, it was undisputed that the trail was used for recreational purposes.
“Moreover, plaintiffs do not dispute the evidence showing that recreational bicyclists used the Great Meadow Bikeway as part of their route to access the mountain biking paths in the redwood forests above the UCSC campus,” the justice wrote. “Section 831.4 has been construed to apply to bike paths that, like the Great Meadow Bikeway, provide access to recreational activities.”
The case is Burgueno v. Regents of the University of California, 16 S.O.S. 219.
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