Immunity Under California Government Code Section 831.4
Government Code Section 831.4 provides: "A public entity, public employee, or a grantor of a public easement to a public entity for any of the following purposes, is not liable for an injury caused by a condition of:
"(a) Any unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas and which is not a (1) city street or highway or (2) county, state or federal highway or (3) public street or highway of a joint highway district, boulevard district, bridge and highway district or similar district formed for the improvement or building of public streets or highways.
"(b) Any trail used for the above purposes.
"(c) Any paved trail, walkway, path, or sidewalk on an easement of way which has been granted to a public entity, which easement provides access to any unimproved property, so long as such public entity shall reasonably attempt to provide adequate warnings of the existence of any condition of the paved trail, walkway, path, or sidewalk which constitutes a hazard to health or safety. Warnings required by this subdivision shall only be required where pathways are paved, and such requirement shall not be construed to be a standard of care for any unpaved pathways or roads."
In Farnham v. City of Los Angeles (1998) 68 Cal. App. 4th 1097, the court held that the immunity applied where a bicyclist sustained injuries when a portion of a city-owned paved bike path gave way.
The Farnham court stated that the final draft of Government Code section 831.4, "gave total immunity for any trail used for recreational access, and a more limited immunity to paved trails, etc., on an easement that provides access to unimproved property." (68 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1102.)
In Carroll v. County of Los Angeles (1997) 60 Cal. App. 4th 606, the Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the county where the plaintiff was injured while rollerblading on a paved bicycle path.
The Court of Appeal held that "the immunity under subdivision (b) is not limited to 'access' trails, but extends to include a trail whose use itself is the object of the recreational activity." ( Carroll, supra, 60 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 609-610.)
These expressions of the scope of the immunity under section 831.4, subdivision (b) as not limited to access trails (implying that access trails are included within the immunity) ( Carroll, supra, at p. 610) and as extending to any trail ( Farnham, supra, at p. 1102), reflect the developing judicial perception that the coverage includes access trails, as well as trails used themselves for the enumerated recreational activities.
The view that subdivision (b) of section 831.4 provides immunity from liability for injuries on access trails is also reflected in the primary treatise addressing government immunity from tort liability in this state. "Under section 831.4, neither a public entity not a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a condition of certain unpaved roads and trails, whether paved or improved, that provide 'access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports,' and other types of 'recreational or scenic areas.' Whether a particular road or trail comes under this immunity is ordinarily a question of fact. " (2 Cal. Government Tort Liability Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 1999) 12:88, pp. 819-820.)