A tree branch fell on a woman while she and her boyfriend were walking through Mission Bay Park. She filed suit against the City of San Diego, alleging the existence of a dangerous condition on public property, namely a negligently maintained eucalyptus tree. The city prevailed on summary judgment, arguing that the woman was struck by the tree branch while standing on a trail; thus, the city could not be liable, pursuant to Government Code section 831.4 (trail immunity). The woman appealed. First, she asserted that trail immunity does not apply under the facts of this case. To this end, she emphasized that her claim of a dangerous condition was based on a negligently maintained eucalyptus tree, rather than the condition of the trail passing through the park. Second, she contended that even if trail immunity did apply, a disputed issue of material fact existed as to where she was located when the branch struck her. The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed. The woman’s claim in this case did not give rise to trail immunity. In addition, there was a disputed issue of material fact as to where she was when the branch struck her. Thus, the appeals court reversed.
The appeals court therefore first outlined the applicable law. The complaint alleged a single cause of action for a dangerous condition of public property. Pursuant to section 830(a), a dangerous condition of public property means a condition of property that creates a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial, or insignificant) risk of injury when such property or adjacent property is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used. The elements for that cause of action are: (1) a dangerous condition of public property; (2) a foreseeable risk, arising from the dangerous condition, of the kind of injury the plaintiff suffered; (3) actionable conduct in connection with the condition, i.e., either negligence on the part of a public employee in creating it or a failure by the entity to correct it after notice of its existence and dangerousness; (4) a causal relationship between the dangerous condition and the plaintiff’s injuries; and (5) compensable damages sustained by the plaintiff.
The woman argued the city managed and maintained both Mission Bay Park and the trees within it, including the eucalyptus tree whose branch fell on her. She claimed that between 2004 and 2013, a city employee actively and negligently trimmed the tree’s branches, removing low-hanging and hazardous branches. According to her, the city created and was aware of a dangerous condition on public property, namely the negligently maintained branches of the eucalyptus tree. As a result, she alleged the city was liable for the harm caused by the falling branch.