CACI 1110 Affirmative Defense—Natural Conditions (Gov. Code, § 831.2)

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

1110 Affirmative Defense—Natural Conditions (Gov. Code, § 831.2)

A public entity is not responsible for harm caused by a natural condition of an unimproved public property. If [name of defendant] proves that [name of plaintiff]’s injury was caused by such a condition, then it is not responsible for the injury.

Sources and Authority

Natural Condition of Unimproved Public Property. Government Code section 831.2.

Public Beaches. Government Code section 831.21.

“The immunity provided by section 831.2 is absolute and applies regardless of whether the public entity had knowledge of the dangerous condition or failed to give warning. The legislative purpose in enacting section 831.2 was to ensure that public entities will not prohibit public access to recreational areas due to the burden and expense of defending against personal injury suits and of placing such land in a safe condition.” (Goddard v. Department of Fish & Wildlife (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 350, 360 [196 Cal.Rptr.3d 625], internal citations omitted.)

“The natural condition immunity applies even ‘where the public entity had knowledge of a dangerous condition which amounted to a hidden trap.’ As a consequence, courts have held there is no liability for failure to warn of a known dangerous condition when the danger is a natural condition of unimproved public property.” (Alana M. v. State of California (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 1482, 1488 [200 Cal.Rptr.3d 410], internal citation omitted.)

“The statutory immunity extends to ‘an injury caused by a natural condition of any unimproved public property.’ The use of the term ‘caused’ is significant. Here, although the injury occurred on improved property, that is, the paved parking lot, it was caused by the trees, native flora located near—and perhaps superadjacent to—the improved parking lot, but themselves on unimproved property.” (Meddock v. County of Yolo (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 170, 177 [162 Cal.Rptr.3d 796], original italics, footnote and internal citations omitted.)

“[T]he statute presents two fact questions: whether a condition is ‘natural’ and whether the property is ‘unimproved’ public property.” (County of San Mateo v. Superior Court (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 724, 731 [221 Cal.Rptr.3d 138].)

“[T]o qualify public property as improved so as to take it outside the immunity statute ‘some form of physical change in the condition of the property at the location of the injury, which justifies the conclusion that the public entity is responsible for reasonable risk management in that area, [is] required to preclude application of the immunity.’ ” (Meddock, supra, 220 Cal.App.4th at p. 178 [162 Cal.Rptr.3d 796], original italics.)

“It is also the rule that ‘improvement of a portion of a park area does not remove the immunity from the unimproved areas.’ ‘The reasonableness of this rule is apparent. Otherwise, the immunity as to an entire park area improved in any way would be demolished. [Citation.] This would, in turn, seriously thwart accessibility and enjoyment of public lands by discouraging the construction of such improvements as restrooms, fire rings, campsites, entrance gates, parking areas and maintenance buildings.’ ” (Alana M., supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1488−1489.)

“We express no opinion, however, as to whether proof of a causal link is merely sufficient to defeat immunity or, as Alana M. held, necessary. [Plaintiff] contends proof of a causal connection between improvements and the accident is necessary to establish that property is improved and thus accepts the burden of having to prove this. Therefore, for purposes here, we will assume without deciding that proof that human conduct or improvements created, contributed to, or exacerbated the dangerousness of a natural condition is not only a sufficient but necessary, additional element of establishing that property is ‘improved.’ ” (County of San Mateosupra, 13 Cal.App.5th at p. 740.)

“It is now generally settled that human-altered conditions, especially those that have existed for some years, which merely duplicate models common to nature are still ‘natural conditions’ as a matter of law for the purposes of Government Code section 831.2.” (Tessier v. City of Newport Beach (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 310, 314 [268 Cal.Rptr. 233].)

“Immunity under section 831.2 exists even where the public entity’s nearby improvements together with natural forces add to the buildup of sand on a public beach.” (Morin v. County of Los Angeles (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 184, 188 [263 Cal.Rptr. 479].)

“The statutory immunity is fully applicable to manmade lakes and reservoirs. Moreover, section 831.2 has been broadly construed to provide immunity even where a natural condition has been affected in some manner by human activity or nearby improvements.” (Goddard, supra, 243 Cal.App.4th at p. 361, internal citations omitted.)

“The mere attachment of a rope on defendant’s undeveloped land by an unknown third party did not change the ‘natural condition’ of the land.” (Kuykendall v. State of California (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 563, 566 [223 Cal.Rptr. 763].)

“Essentially, [plaintiff]’s position is she was entitled to a campsite in the forest safe from falling trees, but this ‘is exactly the type of complaint section 831.2 was designed to protect public entities against.’ ” (Alana M., supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 1493.)

“The courts have generally understood campsites with amenities to be improved, including the court in Alana M.” (County of San Mateosupra, 13 Cal.App.5th at p. 736.)

“Given the intent of the Legislature in enacting section 831.2, we hold that wild animals are a natural part of the condition of unimproved public property within the meaning of the statute.” (Arroyo, supra, 34 Cal.App.4th at p. 762.)

Secondary Sources

5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, §§ 302, 308
Haning et al., California Practice Guide: Personal Injury, Ch. 2(III)-D, Liability For “Dangerous Conditions” Of Public Property, ¶ 2:2825 et seq. (The Rutter Group)
2 California Government Tort Liability Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 4th ed.) §§ 12.82–12.87
5 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 61, Particular Liabilities and Immunities of Public Entities and Public Employees, § 61.03 (Matthew Bender)
40 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 464, Public Entities and Officers: California Government Claims Act, § 464.85 (Matthew Bender)
19A California Points and Authorities, Ch. 196, Public Entities, §§ 196.12, 196.214 (Matthew Bender)