A group of soccer players narrowly escaped injuries when a 15-foot tree branch fell on their team bench in a Pasadena park last month. The players were seeking shade from the hot summer sun when the tree limb above them began to fall. All of the players escaped without serious injuries, though some did suffer some minor scrapes and scratches. The Pasadena Fire Department blamed a “wet winter” followed by this summer’s “intense heat” for the dangerous situation.
Would the soccer players have any legal recourse if they had been injured by the fallen tree branch? The answer may depend on whether the park is publicly or privately owned. In California, injured accident victims can generally file a personal injury claim for damages against any private party for injuries that are the result of negligence. If the Pasadena park is privately owned, the soccer players could file a personal injury claim against the owner or manager of the park.
In order to successfully recover compensation, the soccer players would have to prove that their injuries were caused because of the park owner/operator/manager’s negligence. Negligence occurs when:
- A person has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm;
- The person breaches that duty; and
- Another person is injured because of that breach.
Privately owned parks must be maintained so that they are safe for anyone who legally uses the property. Park owners are required to make sure that their parks are free from dangerous conditions or conditions that could potentially harm those people who use the park. Here, a large tree branch fell and nearly struck a group of soccer players. The soccer players, had they been injured by the branch, would have to establish that the park knew or should have known about the potential threat of danger the branch posed. They could attempt to do this by establishing that other branches in the park had fallen and pointing to the fact that the park owner/operator/manager took no steps to ensure that trees were properly trimmed.
The soccer players would likely have a more difficult time filing a personal injury claim for damages if the park is publically owned. It can be difficult to sue the government. The government is generally not liable for general negligence. Instead, claims against the government must be brought under specific statutes and laws under which they may be held accountable. Any claims against the government must be filed with the specific department of the Pasadena or California state government that is allegedly responsible for an injury. That initial claim must be filed within 6 months of the injury. The government then has 45 days to respond to the claim. At this time it can agree to the terms of the claim and compensate the accident victim for their injuries, or it can deny the claim (as it often tends to do). If a claim is denied the accident victim has 6 months from the date of that denial to file a claim in California civil court.
What specific statute could have injured soccer players tried to use to hold a government property owner responsible for their injuries? California Government Code Section 835 allows accident victims who are injured by a dangerous condition to file a claim against the government. If the soccer players decided to pursue compensation using Section 835 they would first be required to prove (1) the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury, (2) the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition, and (3) the dangerous conditions created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that was suffered. Once the soccer players established these elements they would then be required to prove that either (1) the dangerous condition was created because of a negligent or wrongful act of a government employee, or (2) the government knew or should have known of the dangerous condition and did not take measures to protect against possible injury.
In both cases, the success of the personal injury claim would probably come down to whether or not the property owner was aware of the potential threat of harm the weather-damaged tree branch posed. If the property owner knew or should have known that the branch could break and fall they may be liable on the theory of negligence. An experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney could help injured accident victims use that knowledge and the existence of a dangerous condition to leverage the park owner into a meaningful settlement to cover the cost of medical expenses and other damages. If you have been injured on public or private property you may be entitled to damages from the park owner. Cases against the government are generally more difficult, but an experienced attorney can help you fight to maximize your recovery. Contact the Pasadena law office of Joshua W. Glotzer today for more information.