In County of San Diego v. Superior Court (Casteen), published November 20, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 1 issued a writ directing a trial court to set aside its order denying the petitioner county summary judgment in a personal injury case. The plaintiff, a teenager, swung on a rope hanging from a tree in a county park. The rope hung over a ravine. There was debris in the ravine, including cut-down tree limbs and brush left by the county's maintenance crews. As the plaintiff swung over the ravine, the rope broke, and the plaintiff fell onto the ravine. The rope broke because the sun had weakened it. The county moved for summary judgment based on Government Code section 831.7's immunity from liability for injuries that result from hazardous recreational activities. The trial court found triable issues of fact on whether the exceptions to the statute applied.
The appellate court concluded that the undisputed facts established that the immunity applied. Section 831.7 itself states that "tree rope swinging" is a hazardous recreational activity to which the statute applies. The statute contains exceptions. When an affirmative defense contains an exception, an the complaint alleges facts triggering potential application of the exception, the defendant must negate the exception as part of its initial burden on summary judgment. The appellate court ruled that the county satisfied its burden. The exception for failure to guard or warn of a known dangerous condition not reasonably assumed by the participant as part of the hazardous activity did not apply to the debris at the bottom of the ravine. The debris was not a dangerous condition of property, because it did not pose a danger to those using the park with due care; only to those engaged in hazardous recreational activities. Further, the debris was an obvious danger, and falling is part of the inherent risk of the activity. The exception for failure to maintain the property involved in the activity did not apply; there was no evidence that the county supplied the rope, and no duty should be imposed on the county to eliminate rope swings. The exception for gross negligence did not apply, because there was no evidence that the County was negligent.