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Motion For Summary Judgment Successful On Recreational Use Immunity suit v. Utility

October 1, 2004

Murchison & Cumming, LLP successfully obtained a motion for summary judgment in a personal injury case, the matter having been handled by Friedrich W. Seitz, Kenneth H. Moreno and Gina E. Och.

Two minor girls were injured when one of the girls contacted electrical equipment at a substation owned by Southern California Edison Company ("Edison"). The two girls lived in the neighborhood next to the substation. On the day of the incident, the girls were playing ball and the ball flew over the wall of the substation and into a fenced-off area containing the electrical equipment. The two girls decided to retrieve the ball and climbed onto the substation's surrounding brick wall and over into the substation. One of the girls then climbed a locked, chain link fence, measuring 6 feet tall, and jumped down into the area with the electrical equipment. As she was reaching for the ball, she made contact with the electrical equipment. Warning signs and "Do Not Enter" signs were posted around the perimeter of the substation, inside the substation, and around the perimeter of the chain link fence. Additionally, barbed wire, chain link fencing, and spikes were affixed to the outside brick wall.

Plaintiffs sued Edison for negligence and premises liability. In response, the defense filed a Motion for Summary Judgment based on a statutory immunity codified at Civil Code section 846, commonly known as the "recreational use immunity." The immunity is intended to prohibit any negligence claims against property owners by uninvited, non-paying recreational users. Edison argued that the recreational use immunity applied in this instance because it met the two elements of section 846: (1) it owned the substation; and (2) plaintiffs' injuries resulted from their entry into the premises for a recreational purpose. Based on the legislative purpose, the statutory language, and current case law, the Court granted the defense's summary judgment motion. The Court found that not only did Edison own the substation, but that the girls' actions were included in the statutory definition of "recreation." Moreover, the Court held that none of the three statutory exceptions to the recreational use immunity applied. Namely, there was no evidence that (1) Edison willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against a dangerous condition on its property; (2) Edison did not grant the plaintiffs permission to enter the property in exchange for a paid fee; and (3) Edison did not expressly invite plaintiffs to come upon its property. Accordingly, plaintiffs' entire complaint was barred and Edison was not liable as a matter of law.