The California Supreme Court has made a thoroughly considered decision regarding California Civil Code section 846 after a bicyclist sued the United States government in a personal injury lawsuit.
The plaintiff Alan Klein was injured in a serious bicycle accident in Southern California in 2004. He was riding through Angeles National Forest when a volunteer for the park hit him with his vehicle, causing Klein catastrophic, life-altering injuries.
He suffered broken ribs, a severed ear, a collapsed lung, a brain injury and an injury that lost him the use of his left arm. Because of his injuries, Klein had to retire from his job as an air traffic controller, and his wife also retired in order to care for him.
The couple sued the United States government, which owns the park, and the driver for damages.
California’s Civil Code section 846, however, made the Kleins’ case difficult. The first paragraph of the law, on which the court primarily based their ruling, is stated as follows:
“An owner of an estate or any other interest in real property, whether possessory or nonpossessory, owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for any recreational purpose or to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on such premises to persons entering for such purpose, except as provided in this section.”
The United States government argued that the above law protects them and their employees from being sued for damages in cases like this. Klein was using the park recreationally, not by invitation, and was injured basically because he entered the park at his own risk.
The California Supreme Court disagreed with that defense. They ruled in favor of the plaintiff because they believe that the accident was caused by vehicular negligence, a crime not covered by the liability protection provided within the law.
Safety advocates for the many bicyclists and pedestrians who enjoy California’s numerous public parks see this ruling as a victory. Civil Code section 846 could be applied dangerously if courts saw it as absolving the government and its employees in public parks from total responsibility.
This recent ruling has helped to better define the law’s scope and protect Californians.
Leagle: Alan Richard Klein et al., v. United States of America et al. (7/26/2010)