Catastrophic Injuries at Public Campgrounds

Each year thousands of California residents enjoy the state’s natural beauty by taking their families to a public campground or campsite. What happens when a hazardous or dangerous condition at a campground causes a catastrophic injury to you or a loved one? Do you have any legal recourse against the campground owner for negligence?

12-Year-Old Tree Fall Victim Seeks Justice Against County, Utility

California law confers a special privilege on public and private property owners known as “recreational use” immunity. Under Section 846 of the California Civil Code, an owner has no legal duty “to keep the premises safe” when opening land up for recreational use. In other words, someone who allows you to hunt, fish, or camp on his or her property does not have to warn you about any potential dangers, and is not liable if you are injured.

Recreational use immunity is not absolute. If the property owner only permits recreational use for consideration–i.e., charges an entry fee–then immunity does not apply. This exception may also extend to third parties who have certain access rights to the property in question.

In fact, this was the subject of a decision issued earlier this year by a California state appeals court. The victim in this case is a 12-year-old boy who suffered “catastrophic injuries” while on a camping trip with his family. According to court records, the boy was sleeping “when a 75-foot tree fell on his tent at 5 a.m.” The tree previously stood about 20 feet from the tent and was later found to contain “a species of fungus that caused it to fall.”

The park itself is owned by San Mateo County. The tree was also right near electrical lines that ran through the campsite. The victim, through his legal guardian, sued both the county and the utility company for negligence. The victim invoked the exception to recreational use immunity, since the county charged admission to the campground.

The utility argued the exception did not apply to its actions, since it never received any fees connected with the campground, but the First District said that did not matter. The admission fee removes immunity for any “licensee or easement holder who possesses only a limited right to enter and use a premises on specified terms but no right to control third party access to the premises.”

A few months after issuing that ruling, the First District published a second decision in an appeal brought by San Mateo County. Although the County acknowledged recreational use immunity did not apply, it claimed immunity under another California statute that absolves public authorities of liability for injuries “caused by a natural condition of any unimproved public property.” The First District said it was not clear from the record developed so far whether the diseased tree was in an improved or unimproved area, so it returned that issue to the trial court for a jury to resolve.

Speak With a Pasadena Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you are injured on someone else’s property, whether it is a public campground or a private store, it is important to seek out qualified legal assistance. If you live in the Pasadena area and require advice following a catastrophic injury, Strassburg, Gilmore, & Wei, Attorneys at Law can help. Call us today at (626) 683-9933 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.

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