California Court of Appeal Opinion Holds Wooden Walkway in Santa Monica Constitutes “Trail,” Providing the City with Immunity from Liability

The California Court of Appeal recently addressed the issue of whether the City of Santa Monica was liable for injuries sustained by a woman walking near the Santa Monica Pier.  In this lawsuit, the City contended it was immune from liability under the Government Code section providing that public entities are not liable for injuries caused by trails used for recreational purposes. The issue in this case was whether the wooden walkway constituted a trail as defined by the Code.

In 2012, on an evening in June, Alla Afremova was strolling north on the Santa Monica beach with her family.  They noticed a wooden walkway to the east and decided to take this walkway to the paved area en route to the Santa Monica Pier and the Ferris wheel. Ms. Afremova fell while walking on the raised plank and sustained injuries. She then filed a complaint against the City of Santa Monica for premises liability and personal injury.

The City moved for summary judgment on the ground that Ms. Afremova’s motion was barred by trail immunity and design immunity, set forth by the Government Code sections 831.4 and 830.6. Regarding trail immunity, the City contended that the wooden walkway is used for walking and viewing the Pacific Ocean, as well as beach access.

After presenting evidence of the purpose of the wooden walkway, the City also described improvements to the South Beach area, including the walkway. The City contended that Ms. Afremova was engaged in recreational activity when on the walkway and that the path is part of an extended network of paved walkways for recreational use.  Ms. Afremova argued that her family and she were not engaged in organized recreation or sport on the day of the incident, and the City did not show any legal precedent in which a court held a constructed wooden walkway was a trail.

The trial court found that the City met its burden of demonstrating the area where Ms. Afremova fell falls under the immunity for a trail, and the wooden path connects the beach to the bike path, making the wooden path integral to the design of the bike path.

On appeal, the court stated that the trail immunity set forth in the Government Code serves to protect the government from liability for recreational activities on public land. This immunity extends to trails, whether or not they are paved.  The issue was whether the wooden walkway constitutes a trail under the law.

The appellate court stated that the applicable provision of the law is section 831.4, subdivision (b), which provides protection for cities when an injury occurs on trails giving access to recreational areas.  Whether a particular property is a trail depends on the purpose of the property. In this case, the City showed that the wooden walkway is used by runners and walkers to access the beach or the paved bike and walking trails.  Photos were introduced into evidence, showing that the walkway was used for recreational purposes. The court stated there was no evidence of any other purpose.

The court also held that caselaw supports a finding that the walkway is a trail under section 831.4.  The court compared the case at hand to one in which an individual suffered injuries when rollerblading on the South Bay bicycle path in Santa Monica. There, the court held that the words “trail” and “path” were synonymous. The court also held that the Pacific Ocean is a “scenic area” under Section 831.4.  In Ms. Afremova’s case, the appellate court stated that the path at issue was used for walking and viewing the ocean, which are clearly recreational activities. The court stated that the walkway was a trail under section 831.4.

Next, the court rejected Ms. Afremova’s contention that the wooden walkway was not integral to the bike path but was used by different people for different activities.  The court stated that she did not set forth evidence of other activities and in fact was herself walking on the beach when the incident occurred.  The court stated the evidence showed that the walkway was for recreational purposes.

Finally, the court stated that it was not necessary for the trial court to find that the wooden walkway was integral to a network of paths in order to qualify the walkway as a trail under section 831.4.  The walkway constitutes a trail because it gives access to the beach and is used for recreational purposes.

In conclusion, the court stated since the walkway provides access to the beach and serves recreational purposes, it is a trail within the meaning of section 831.4.  The court affirmed the lower court’s holding.

The premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide guidance and representation to injured individuals throughout California who are seeking compensation following an accident.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Holds that Mixed Use Bikepath Provides Trail Immunity to UC Regents for Personal Injury Claims Based on Condition of Path, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 14, 2016

California Court of Appeal Affirms Judgment in Favor of City Due to Public Entity Immunity, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 1, 2015

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