Wrongful Death on the Venice Beach Boardwalk

The Los Angeles area is famous for its beaches and boardwalks. The Venice Beach Boardwalk, for example, draws more than 100,000 residents and tourists each day to its shops, restaurants, and other attractions. The Boardwalk’s popularity also makes it a safety hazard for pedestrians. Just recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that “red tape” has delayed the introduction of a number of necessary safety improvements in and around the Boardwalk.

Does a Commercial Boardwalk Qualify as a “Recreational Trail”?

Unfortunately, even if such improvements are ultimately made, they will come too late for prior victims of catastrophic injury and wrongful death. Indeed, the Times reported that in late October, a pedestrian was killed while using a clearly marked crosswalk near the Boardwalk. Police blamed a motorist who failed to yield.

Is negligent management of the Boardwalk itself contributing to these kinds of deaths? An ongoing wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court has alleged just that. The City of Los Angeles, which owns and operates the Boardwalk, has tried to evade responsibility by citing a state law absolving public entities for personal injuries that occur on “recreational trails.”

Here is what happened: One evening in August 2013, a man drove his car onto the Boardwalk and into a crowd of people. One foreign tourist died, while 16 others were seriously injured. The victims filed a number of lawsuits against the city, including a wrongful death claim brought by the family of the deceased tourist.

The lawsuits cited the existence of a “dangerous condition” on the Boardwalk, specifically “inadequate barriers to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering and driving along the Boardwalk.” The plaintiffs further alleged that the city had known of the safety risk of inadequate barriers for several years prior to the 2013 accident and failed to take appropriate action.

As noted above, the city cited a provision of California law as an affirmative defense to the lawsuits. Section 831.4 of the California Government Code states a “public entity,” such as the City, is not liable for any injury caused by a “trail” that provides “access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas.” The plaintiffs replied that the Venice Beach Boardwalk is not a recreational trail under any of these definitions.

To the contrary, the plaintiffs pointed to the city’s own prior definition of the Boardwalk as a “place of commerce” expressly zoned for such purposes. The Superior Court held the plaintiffs presented a “disputed fact” as to the city’s immunity claim and denied the latter’s motion for summary judgment. The city appealed, but the California Second District Court of Appeal said the plaintiffs could proceed to trial. As the appeals court explained, the language of Section 831.4 itself “suggests that trail immunity does not apply to paths, walkways, promenades, or other surface areas containing significant commercial activity.” Even if the Venice Beach Boardwalk draws many “recreational” users, it also generates a large amount of “commercial activity,” which gives the city an incentive “to keep the property open to the public and to make the property safer.”

Need Help From a California Wrongful Death Attorney?

There are many situations in which a property owner fails to correct a known hazardous condition and someone is seriously injured or killed as a result. If you or a family member find yourself in such a situation, you need to speak with an experienced Pasadena personal injury lawyer. Contact Strassburg, Gilmore, & Wei, Attorneys at Law, if you have a potential catastrophic injury or wrongful death claim and would like to schedule a consultation with us today.

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