Appellate Court Holds Trial Immunity Does not Apply in Case Involving Serious Injuries Suffered by Falling Tree Branch While Victim Walked on Path in Mission Bay Park, California

In a recent decision, the California Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in granting defendant’s summary judgment motion regarding plaintiff’s claim for dangerous condition of public property.  After suffering serious injuries when a tree branch fell on her while walking through Mission Bay, in San Diego, the plaintiff brought a personal injury claim, alleging that the City negligently maintained the tree.  The City moved for trial immunity, under Government Code section 831.4.  While the lower court granted summary judgment based on this immunity, the appellate court found there had been a disputed issue of material fact as to where plaintiff had been when the branch struck her, and that the claim was based on negligent maintenance of the tree, not the trail.

Dangerous condition of public property includes conditions that create substantial risk of injury when the property is used with due care, in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable it will be used.  There must be a dangerous condition of public property, a foreseeable risk of injury, conduct connected to the condition (such as negligence), causation between the condition and injuries, and finally, damages.  Plaintiff’s allegation is that the City negligently trimmed tree branches, and was aware of the dangerous condition posed by negligently maintaining branches of the eucalyptus tree.  Therefore, the City is liable for harm caused when the branch fell from the tree.

The City contended that under section 831.4, they were immune from liability as they are a public entity and the tails were used for access to recreational activities.  While a paved trail runs through Mission Bay Park, and is a “trail” under section 831.4, plaintiff alleged that her claim was not based on a condition of the trail. She argued that the negligently maintained tree was the dangerous condition that gives rise to the City’s liability.  The City argued that plaintiff had been on the trail when struck, and therefore, the dangerous condition is connected to the trail.

The appellate court rejected the City’s argument that the trail here provided access to the danger.  Here, the trail did not provide the only access to the allegedly negligently maintained tree.  Plaintiff did not need to use the trial to access the tree, she could have walked across the grass.  Additionally, unlike in other cases where the City would be burdened with expense to improve a path’s design, the condition here did not require the City to alter the trail.

In short, the court stated that the present case involved trees, not trails. The trees that were not naturally occurring in Mission Bay Park, but had been planted and maintained by the City caused injury.  Plaintiff had not alleged that her injuries were based on trail conditions.  The evidence was not clear whether plaintiff had been on grass or the paved trail at the time she was struck.  

Plaintiff here, according to the Court, presented evidence that created a disputed issue of material fact regarding where she stood when she was struck by the tree branch.  The court agreed that there was a dispute regarding whether she had been on the trail when she was injured.  The Court also stated that their determination that summary judgment was not proper does not establish the City’s liability for plaintiff’s injuries.  In reversing the judgment in favor of the City, the court stated that they simply held trail immunity did not apply based on plaintiff’s allegations and the evidence.

The personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm offer legal guidance and advocacy to injured individuals throughout Southern California who are seeking compensation after suffering harm in an accident.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds in Favor of Injured Plaintiffs, “Trail Immunity” Does Not Extend to Public Golf Course that Causes Injuries to Pedestrians Nearby, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 15, 2017

California Court of Appeal Opinion Holds Wooden Walkway in Santa Monica Constitutes “Trail,” Providing the City with Immunity from Liability, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 12, 2016


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