California Court of Appeals Holds that Mixed Use Bikepath Provides Trail Immunity to UC Regents for Personal Injury Claims Based on Condition of Path

In a recent California Court of Appeal case, the court addressed whether governmental immunity applied to bar the personal injury claims brought by the parents of a fatally injured student bicyclist. Government Code section 831.4. provides a recreational trail immunity, and on appeal the issue was whether the causes of action for a dangerous condition of public property and wrongful death were barred as a matter of law, providing the Regents of the University of California absolute immunity.

Adrian Burgueno was a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He lived off campus and commuted to the university on his bicycle. He traveled  to campus on the Great Meadow Bikeway, a paved bike path. This separate bicycle transportation path allows travel to and from the central campus, and a number of bicycle accidents have taken place on the Bikeway.

In an evening ride home, Mr. Burgueno was fatally injured in a bicycle accident on the Bikeway. His sister and mother (“Plaintiffs”) alleged that the Bikeway does not provide access to recreational areas but connects the university campus to downtown Santa Cruz. They alleged a dangerous condition of public property and wrongful death.  The wrongful death action was based on the allegation that the Regents knew or should have known the bikeway was unsafe due to its nature:  a downhill curve, sight limitations, and lack of barriers to prevent nighttime use. They contended that the Regents failed to warn students and the public of this dangerous condition.  The plaintiffs also contended that the Regents were negligent and reckless, and this was the proximate cause of Adrian’s death.

Moving for summary judgment, the Regents contended that they had absolute immunity under section 831.4 because the Bikeway is a trail used for recreational or scenic activity.  The plaintiffs argued it was not a trail and was instead a transportation “corridor” designed for commuting.  The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and stated the conclusion is that the Great Meadow Bikeway is a trail.

On appeal, the court addressed whether the facts show that the action is barred under the government immunity in section 831.4. The law states that a public entity is liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on property if the plaintiff shows the property was dangerous at the time of the injury and the entity had knowledge of the dangerous condition.  Immunity for injuries caused on unpaved roads used for scenic or recreational purposes, or on trails, is intended to encourage public entities to provide property for this use.

In their analysis, the court stated that section 831.4 applies to bike paths that are both paved and unpaved. The plaintiffs contended that the use of the trail for both recreational and non-recreational purposes precludes trail immunity, and in this case, the Bikeway was a transportation corridor.  Here, the court stated that the Bikeway is used as a commuting route and also for recreation.  The Regents submitted a statement of undisputed material facts making clear that the Bikeway is used for recreation as well as for commuting purposes.  Since this mixed use includes recreation, the Regents were entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs’ claims centering on the condition of the Bikeway.

The court also stated that the plaintiffs did not dispute evidence showing the Bikeway is part of a route to access a mountain bike path and is used by recreational bicyclists.  The court concluded the personal injury causes of action for a dangerous condition of public property and wrongful death were barred.  The Regents had absolute immunity from claims centering on the bicycle accident.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment granting summary judgment.

The bicycle accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm represent individuals injured throughout Southern California. We provide a free, confidential consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds University Had No Duty to Protect Delivery Driver Against Injuries Resulting from Inaccurately Labeled Package, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2016

California Supreme Court Reverses Judgment for City Because Plaintiff Need Not Prove Dangerous Condition Caused Third-Party Conduct, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 20, 2015

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