California Court Holds in Favor of Injured Plaintiffs, “Trail Immunity” Does Not Extend to Public Golf Course that Causes Injuries to Pedestrians Nearby

The California Court of Appeal reversed a decision in favor of a golf course owned by the City of Pasadena in a lawsuit brought by a baby and his mother after the baby was injured while on a trail adjacent to the golf course. The issue before the appellate court was whether the City was entitled to trail immunity.  The baby had been struck in the head by a golf ball while being pushed by his mother in a stroller. He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a brain injury.

The plaintiffs brought a lawsuit on the legal theory of a dangerous condition of public property posed by the golf course.  At issue was whether the City had established that design immunity entitled it to summary judgment.  The court stated that a dangerous condition of public property creates a substantial (as opposed to a minor) risk of injury when the property has been used with due care, in a manner that is foreseeable for its use.

Public entities are liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions of property when the plaintiff shows that the property was dangerous at the time of the injury, the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition, the condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that resulted, and either an employee’s negligence created the condition or the public entity had notice of the condition.

Whether a property is entitled to trail immunity depends on various considerations, such as the purpose of the property. Trail immunity is provided by law, and it may apply when injuries result from a condition on unpaved roads that provide access to hunting, fishing, recreational sports, riding, or similar activities.

The court framed the issue as whether the injury to the plaintiff had been caused by a dangerous condition of the walkway.  In terms of trail immunity, the court interpreted section 831.4 of the Government Code. Here, they stated that the statute itself provides immunity for injuries caused by trails but not necessarily for injuries caused by dangerous conditions of adjacent public property.

In this case, the court stated that policy required the walkway and the golf course to each be given a separate immunity analysis, particularly regarding the danger posed by third-party conduct on the golf course. As third parties, golfers pose a risk of harm to those using the trail.  Since there is a design that protects people outside the course from errant golf balls (trees and a fence), the court stated that the City and the designer were aware of the potential harm that stray golf balls might cause, without safety precautions.

The court stated that as a commercial enterprise that makes money, the golf course was capable of paying for safety features, such as nets, that would protect pedestrians hit by stray golf balls. While the trail and the golf course have a close proximity, the court stated it is not likely that liability would cause the City to close the trail.  The golf course makes money to help with maintenance. By denying trail immunity to the City for a dangerous condition at the golf course that increases the risk of harm through having golfers, the golf course will be prompted to pay to take corrective action.

Stating policy, the court made clear that if they recognized immunity, the City would not be incentivized to correct a dangerous condition at the golf course, even if the course was generating revenue.  In fact, the court stated that the dangerous conditions are not related – the design of the golf course and the design of the trail.

In essence, the court stated that a public golf course is not entitled to assert the trail immunity defense when the course is adjacent to a trail abutting a public street, the course is revenue-generating, the course has a dangerous condition that exposes people to harm from third parties hitting golf balls, and the dangerous condition of the golf course caused harm to users of the trail.

At Sharifi Firm, our Los Angeles premises liability attorneys help accident victims seek compensation from an individual or entity responsible for causing their harm.  Our office is prepared to investigate, negotiate, and if necessary, litigate on your behalf. Contact us for a free consultation by calling 1-866-422-7222 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Upholds Judgment in Favor of Golf Club Owner for Plaintiff’s Injuries from Stray Golf Ball while on Adjacent Trail, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 26, 2017

California Court Upholds Judgment in Favor of Regents of California Because Trial Court did not Improperly Instruct Jury Concerning the Kind of Injury That Plaintiff Suffered, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 11, 2016

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