Weekly Law Resume - August 12, 2010: Government Liability - Recreational Immunity Statute Does Not Shield Landowner From Liability Caused By Negligent Driving of Employee


California Civil Code section 846 provides immunity to California landowners for injuries sustained by recreational users of the property. The issue in this case involves whether section 846 applies to acts of vehicular negligence committed by a landowner's employee that cause personal injury to a recreational user of the land.

In 2004, Plaintiff Richard Klein was riding his bicycle on a public, two-lane, paved road in Angeles National Forest. The park is owned by the U.S. Government. Klein was struck by an automobile driven by a volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and suffered serious injuries. Klein brought suit against the United States and the volunteer in U.S. District Court alleging that the United States was vicariously liable for the vehicular negligence of the volunteer.

The United States filed a summary judgment motion asserting that section 846 provided immunity from accidents occurring on its' land to recreational users. The district court granted the motion and Plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit requested that the California Supreme Court provide clarification as to whether section 846 applies to vehicular accidents. The Supreme Court concluded that section 846's liability shield does not extend to acts of vehicular negligence by a landowner or the landowner's employee.

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