Friday, November 23, 2018
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Above is Santiago Peak where Andres Marin had been bicycling prior to being injured and lost in the forest. He died during the night when Sheriff’s Department rescue operations were suspended based on a lieutenant’s hunch that he was missing because he was having an affair. The Court of Appeal on Tuesday reinstated causes of action against the County of Riverside brought by Marin’s widow and children.
The Riverside Sheriff’s Department created a duty to a bicyclist who was lost in a forest by virtue of initiating rescue efforts, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has held, reinstating causes of action by the family of the man, who died from the cold after attempts to locate him were suspended based on speculation that he was off on an amorous pursuit.
The department had assigned an incident commander, pinged the man’s phone and contacted persons in the area, Justice Douglas P. Miller of Div. Two noted in his opinion, filed Tuesday
Christyna Arista’s husband Andres Marin went missing after a bicycle ride on Santiago Peak in the Cleveland National Forest. Arista reached Marin by phone at around 5:30 p.m. that day, and he told her he had fallen on his return trip from the peak.
Wife Contacts Authorities
Arista telephoned authorities and reported her husband’s injury. The Corona Police Department was the first to respond, but the Riverside Sheriff’s Department took over by 8 p.m. Lieutenant Zachary Hall was assigned as the incident commander despite having no training in search and rescue operations.
Hall allegedly conjectured that the missing man was simply having an affair, and put the search over to the next morning. Marin’s body was found the next morning by a volunteer rescue worker; he had died of hypothermia in the night.
Arista and the couple’s four children sued the county for wrongful death, as well as setting forth other causes of action. Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia granted summary judgment for the county, finding that the plaintiffs had not shown the sheriff’s department had a duty to the man.
Miller noted the rule that a law enforcement agency has no duty to help an individual absent an undertaking to do so that creates reliance on those efforts. However, he pointed to allegations in the second amended complaint as to initial steps taken by the department, showing that “the Sheriff’s Department was at the victim’s house, at the trailheads, talking to people in the area, and making search plans.”
“Assuming the foregoing facts are true, the Sheriff’s Department, through its actions, undertook the responsibility of rescuing the victim because the Sheriff’s Department was actively involved in all aspects of locating the victim, and by appointing an Incident Commander, the Sheriff’s Department signaled that it was taking control of the rescue. Therefore, the Sheriff’s Department had the duty to exercise due care in performing the rescue, which means (a) using reasonable care not to increase the risk of harm, and (b) following through in a reasonable manner after inducing reliance on the rescue.”
Arista, accompanied by family members, began her own search for Marin at about 3:45 the next morning, after Hall told her he was postponing the search until daybreak.
“That Wife did not start her efforts until hearing of the County’s delay suggests Wife was relying on the County’s search efforts,” Miller said. “Accordingly, the Family has sufficiently pled that the County undertook rescue efforts and induced reliance on those efforts.”
The opinion affirms the judgment as to a cause of action for deprivation of constitutional rights, noting that the county (which at the time had limited capacity for search and rescue and relied on various volunteer groups for such missions) did not apparently have a policy of indifference to rescuing missing persons, having conducted hundreds of successful rescues in the past.
The case is Arista v. County of Riverside, E068432.
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