City Has Absolute Immunity From Liability For Injuries Suffered On City Bike Path

June 15, 2007 | Bulletin No. 864375.1

Issue

In Prokop v. City of Los Angeles, (--- Cal.Rptr. 3d ---, 2007 WL 1463448, Cal.App. 2 Dist., May 21, 2007), a California Court of Appeal considered an appeal from a bicyclist who was injured while bicycling along a city-designed bikeway. The bicyclist claimed that his injuries were the result of dangerous conditions created by the city and that the city knew or should have known about them.

The court ruled that Government Code Section 831.4 gives the city absolute immunity for injuries along any trail or unpaved road used for recreation and that the bikeway is a trail for the purposes of the law.

Facts

David Prokop ("Prokop") was riding his bicycle on a city-designed paved bikeway in the City of Los Angeles ("City"). As he attempted to exit the bikeway, he collided with a chain link fence, causing serious injuries. He claimed the City created a dangerous condition by placing the fence too close to the bike path, and was negligent for failing to protect him from the conditions that caused his injuries.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the City. Prokop appealed.

Decision

The court reviewed the language of Section 831.4, which states that a public entity is not liable for an injury caused by a condition of any unpaved road or any trail used for the purposes of “fishing, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas,” providing that the road or trail is not a city, county, state, or federal street or highway.

Prokop’s reliance on Government Code Section 815, which states that a government entity is liable for injuries caused by its failure to exercise its duty to protect against dangerous conditions, was mistaken, the court said, because the same section specifically states that an entity’s liability is “subject to any immunity of the public entity provided by statute.”

Accordingly, the court noted that no conclusion is possible except that Section 831.4 gives the City absolute immunity from injuries caused by the condition of the bikeway, provided the bikeway is a “trail” as defined by Section 831.4.

Many case precedents have clearly established that the bikeway is indeed a trail for the purposes of the law. Citing Armenio v. County of San Mateo (1994) 28 Cal App.4th 417, the court observed that a bikeway qualified as a trail because “the plainly stated purpose of immunity for recreational activities on public land is to encourage public entities to open their property for public recreational use.” In Farnham v. City of Los Angeles (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1100, the court rejected the contention that a paved bikeway was part of the streets and highway system, and therefore not a trail, since the trail is not open to vehicular traffic.

The court concluded that until the Legislature decides differently, paved bikeways are recreational trails, and government entities are not liable for injuries that occur upon them. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Legal Alert Disclaimer

Legal Alerts are published by Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard as a timely reporting service to alert clients and other friends of recent changes in case law, opinions or codes. This alert does not represent the legal opinion of the firm or any member of the firm on the issues described, and the information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice. Should further analysis or explanation of the subject matter be required, please contact the attorney with whom you normally consult.