Friday, January 27, 2017
‘Trail’ Immunity Bars Suit by Man Hit by Golf Ball—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Government Code section that protects public, and certain private, entities from liability to persons injured while using public recreational trails bars a suit by a man who was hit by a flying golf ball while walking on a public path next to a golf course, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. One Wednesday certified for publication the Jan. 18 opinion by Presiding Justice Judith McConnell, in which the court affirmed San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp’s award of summary judgment to Crockett & Company, Inc.
Crockett operates the Bonita Golf Club in unincorporated San Diego County. In 2009, the club granted the county two public easements for an unpaved hiking and equestrian trail parallel to the golf course.
The course is separated from the trial by a chain-link fence about six feet high, and a line of eucalyptus trees spread eight to 12 feet apart, in the area of the 13th hole. The plaintiff, Miguel Leyva, was struck in the eye by a golf ball while walking on the trail with his wife in 2013, costing him 80 percent of the vision in his left eye.
Crockett pled trail immunity under Government Code §831.4 and recreational use immunity under Civil Code §846 as defenses. Trapp ruled that trail immunity foreclosed the plaintiff’s claim.
McConnell, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed. She explained that Crockett qualifies for the immunity as a private landowner that dedicated an easement to a public entity for public recreational use.
The jurist rejected the argument that the immunity did not apply because the suit involved a failure to erect safety barriers, rather than an allegedly negligent condition of the trail. The plaintiff argued that its claim fell outside the scope of the statute, which applies to claims for “an injury caused by a condition of…[a]ny unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding…water sports, recreational or scenic areas” or “[a]ny trail used for the above purposes.”
Prior Court of Appeal decisions explain that the purpose of the immunity is to encourage public entities to make property available for public recreational use, by sparing those entities the expense of defending liability claims and the costs of putting the property in a safe condition.
McConnell explained that the statute has been held to bar claims regarding both design and maintenance of trails, and rejected the argument that the trail’s location next to the golf course “has nothing to do with the fact that [Leyva] was injured by a golf ball from the Club property” and that the injury was not caused by a “condition” of the trail.
Leyva, the presiding justice said, “would not have been struck by the golf ball if he had not been walking on a trail located next to a golf course.”
McConnell cited Amberger-Warren v. City of Piedmont (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 1074, in which the court said the immunity barred a claim for injuries sustained in a slip-and-fall on a path in a public dog park. Rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that immunity did not apply because the alleged causes of the injuries—the city’s failure to install a guardrail and its decision to locate the path next to a slope—were unrelated to the design of the path, the court said immunity “must” extend to a trail’s design and location.
“Just as the trail’s location next to a hill in Amberger-Warren…is an integral feature of the trail, so is the trail’s location next to the golf course,” McConnell wrote. “Further, it makes no difference whether the alleged negligence in failing to erect safety barriers along the boundary between the golf course and the trail occurred on the golf course or on the trail itself because the effect is the same.”
The jurist went on to say that it was unnecessary to determine whether recreational use immunity barred the action as well.
The case is Levya v. Crockett & Company, Inc., 17 S.O.S. 445.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company