California Recreational Immunity Statute Applies to Shield Landowner from Liability for Injuries to Off-Premises Persons Not Involved in Recreational Activity

October 18, 2016Article

The California Court of Appeal, in a case of first impression, recently held that California's "recreational immunity" statute (Cal. Civil Code §846(c)) applies to shield landowners from liability where recreational users of land cause injury to persons outside of the premises and not involved in the recreational activity. In Wang v. Nibbelink, et al. (2016 WL 5940076) (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 13, 2016), Plaintiff Wang was trampled by a horse that escaped a meadow owned by Defendants. At the time of Plaintiff's injury, she and her husband were visiting a property directly adjacent to the Defendants' meadow. Defendants offered their property for overnight camping and horse containment in connection with an annual historical event called Wagon Train where participants simulate Old West travel by stage coach across Northern California. Plaintiff Wang had nothing to do with this event.

On appeal from a summary judgment granted in Defendants' favor, Plaintiff argued that section 846 does not apply to off-premises injury to a person who was not a participant or spectator of the recreational use; and even if section 846 did apply, the landowners were liable for their own negligence in failing to ensure adequate containment for the event's horses, failing to build a fence, and failing to warn those nearby who were not participating in the event. Section 846 provides: "[a]n owner of any estate or any other interest in real property...owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for any recreational purpose or to give any warning of hazardous conditions, uses of, structures, or activities on those premises to persons entering for a recreational purpose." Further, section 846 subsection (c) states: "[a landowner] who gives permission to another for entry or use for the above purpose upon the premises does not thereby ...(c) assume responsibility for or incur liability for any injury to person or property caused by any act of the person to whom permission has been granted..." [emphasis added.]

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants and held that the text of section 846 is extremely broad and relieves landowners of liability for "any injury" to person caused by "any act" of the recreational user. The statute is not limited to injuries to persons on the premises and is not limited to only persons who are involved in the recreational activity. The Court further opined that "making landowners liable when a recreational user injures an uninvolved person on adjacent property would undermine this legislative purpose to encourage private landowners to allow recreational use of their land." (at pg. 10).

The Court further rejected Plaintiff's allegations of independent negligence by the landowners, reasoning that the Plaintiff was unable to plead facts which established the landowner's negligence which were conceptually separated from the alleged duty on the part of the landowners to control the recreational users of the land. This case is an example of the California court's protection of landowners who encourage recreational use of their lands, and extends California's recreational immunity in an effort to further protect landowners from injuries which occur on adjacent lands and to persons who are not participants or spectators to the recreational activity.