Earlier this month, an appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a plaintiff’s case against the University of California Santa Cruz based on the university’s absolute immunity in building and maintaining a bike path. In the case, Burgueno v. The Regents of the University of California, the court determined that a bike path used by students to get to school was a “trail” designed for recreational use, and therefore the university was entitled to immunity from lawsuits arising on the trail under state law.
The accident giving rise to the case occurred on the Great Meadow Bikeway, which is a bicycle-only path that runs through the university’s campus. On the day of the accident, the plaintiff, a full-time student at the university who lived in off-campus housing, was riding his bike on the Great Meadow Bikeway when he was fatally injured in a bicycle accident that occurred on a downhill portion of the trail. As a result, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, alleging that the dangerous condition of the Bikeway resulted in the student’s death.
In a pre-trial motion, the university sought to dismiss the lawsuit based on governmental immunity. Government entities cannot always be held liable for injuries occurring on government land, and recreational use statutes grant immunity to governments when the land at issue is open for general recreation purposes. However, this would not apply if the bikeway’s main purpose was for transportation and not recreation. Thus, the issue in this case was whether the Great Meadow Bikeway was a “trail” under the recreational use statute, or whether its primary function was to transport people to and from campus.