County not Liable for Injury Caused by Natural Condition on Unimproved Property


In Meddock v. County of Yolo (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 3 Dist., September 10, 2013), a California court of appeal determined that a county cannot be held liable for an injury caused by a naturally occurring tree on unimproved property which fell on a person.  The court ruled that because Government Code Section 831.2 provides immunity for an injury caused by a natural condition on unimproved property, regardless of the location where the injury occurred, the county was not liable.


Dwight Meddock was launching a boat on a paved boat ramp at a park operated by Yolo County ("County") on the Sacramento River, when part of a nearby tree broke loose and fell on him causing injury.  Meddock filed suit against the County, asserting that he was injured while "lawfully upon an improved portion" of the public property, and that his injury was caused by the county's failure to properly maintain the area's dead and dying trees.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the County, finding that Meddock's injuries were caused by trees on unimproved, rather than improved property, and that the County was therefore immune.  Meddock appealed.


Government Code Section 831.2 provides public entities with immunity from "an injury caused by a natural condition of any unimproved public property."  This case specifically hinged on the use of the word "caused," the court said.

The injury occurred on improved property, the boat ramp paved by the county, but it was caused by the nearby naturally occurring tree on unimproved property.  Significantly, Section 831.2 includes the word "caused," but not the word "occurred." Therefore, the court ruled that the County was immune from liability because Meddock's injury was caused by a natural condition of the unimproved property.

Further, the court investigated the legislative history of Section 831.2 and found it was intended to promote the public use of unimproved governmental property, reasoning that public agencies might prohibit such use if they risked liability for these types of injuries.

Because Meddock's injuries were caused by decaying natural trees located on unimproved property, the County was immune from liability and the judgment was affirmed.

Written by:

Published In:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard | Attorney Advertising

Don't miss a thing! Build a custom news brief:

Read fresh new writing on compliance, cybersecurity, Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers, social media, hiring & firing, patent reform, the NLRB, Obamacare, the SEC…

…or whatever matters the most to you. Follow authors, firms, and topics on JD Supra.

Create your news brief now - it's free and easy »

All the intelligence you need, in one easy email:

Great! Your first step to building an email digest of JD Supra authors and topics. Log in with LinkedIn so we can start sending your digest...

Sign up for your custom alerts now, using LinkedIn ›

* With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name.