Last month, a California appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a premises liability case that was brought against a city after a baby was struck by a golf ball while riding in a stroller on a nearby walking path. The court was tasked with determining whether the city was entitled to trail immunity, based on the fact that the injury occurred while the plaintiff was on a public walkway. Ultimately, the court determined that the city was not entitled to immunity because the hazard that caused the accident was not physically a part of the government-owned trail, nor was it sufficiently related to the trail.
As a general rule, government entities cannot be named as defendants in personal injury lawsuits without the government entity’s consent. However, statutes passed by state legislatures across the country carve out large exceptions to this general rule. One of the biggest exceptions is when a dangerous condition of government-owned land causes an injury. However, under a related statute, when the injury occurs on an unpaved road that is used for recreational purposes, the government is entitled to immunity. In Maryland and Washington, D.C., this principle is known as recreational use immunity, and it may confer immunity on any landowner who opens his or her land to the public at no cost.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was a young child who was struck by a golf ball as his mother was walking him along a government-owned path that abutted a golf course. A few years before, after someone was struck by an errant golf ball, the golf course installed a concrete wall separating the golf course from the path. There was also a chain-link fence atop the concrete fence.