Issue 115 - September 2021
ReClaim: Trail Immunity
To help members identify and reduce the cost of claims involving cases where the application of governmental immunities may be a potential dispositive defense, the California JPIA has launched ReClaim, a new awareness campaign. This important, data-driven initiative will help members understand and address high-impact claims so that they can redirect critical funding toward important programs and services.
Trail Immunity is the third of three specific governmental immunities on which the California JPIA’s ReClaim campaign will focus this summer. To receive an alert when new materials are available, please contact Management Analyst Courtney Morrison.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation, home to the largest state park system in the United States, stewards more than 3,000 miles of recreational trails. California’s counties, cities, and special districts also host additional thousands of miles of trails that welcome hikers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians to exercise and explore nature. Attracting more users than any other type of recreational facility, trails enhance the physical and mental wellness of residents and visitors throughout California.
Trail Immunity (CA Govt. Code Section 831.4) protects public entities from liability for injuries caused by a condition of a recreational trail. Applying to both paved and unpaved or natural trails, the immunity is intended to motivate municipalities to permit recreational use of their property. Trails typically will retain their immunity protection provided the condition complained of is an integral part of the trail or directly related to the trail itself rather than the land independent of a trail.
The immunity does not apply to arterial roadways or other paved roads, unless the public entity reasonably attempted to provide adequate warnings of the existence of any condition of the paved trail, walkway, path, or sidewalk that constitutes a hazard to health or safety.
To prepare to facilitate asserting a trail immunity defense, the California JPIA recommends that members take the following actions:
- Develop policies and procedures encouraging safe and proper use of trails by residents and visitors to your community.
- Designate and allocate adequate resources for a trail management team—or an individual or individuals—to assume responsibility for appropriate acquisition, identification, planning, inspection, operation, maintenance, and coordination of your agency’s trails.
- Document trail plans, and regularly update trail maps to reflect current conditions.
- Coordinate planning and management with internal and external stakeholders, including adjacent property owners or other local and regional agencies.
- Create a sustainable notification system for the public to notify your agency or its representatives of trail concerns.
Some member agencies have formed partnerships with local volunteer organizations to steward their communities’ trails. In the City of La Cañada Flintridge, for example, the nonprofit La Cañada Flintridge Trails Council serves as informant, collaborator, and ambassador. Volunteers alert staff to trail-related issues so that they may be resolved promptly, maintain the city’s trail map, and provide strategic guidance on improvements, policy development, and usage protocols.
For more information, please read the California JPIA’s white paper on trail immunity, which explains trail immunity, explores an extensive series of key court cases interpreting the immunity, and outlines actions agencies can take to help establish and maintain the immunity.< Back to Full Issue Print Article