David Jones Victorious Before California Supreme Court, Ensuring Future Safety of Visitors To National Parks and Other Recreational Areas
Jones Relentless in Effort to To Vindicate Seriously Injured Client
Partner David G. Jones argued before the California Supreme Court on May 6, 2010 in an effort to vindicate his client Alan Klein, after the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the state's highest court to review a legal issue surrounding Mr. Klein's right to recover for serious injuries.
The California Supreme Court determined that federal employees should not be let off the hook when they negligently injure people in National Parks within California.
In a decision which has broad implications for both outdoor recreationists and landowners within the State of California, the Court sided with outdoor enthusiasts. Simply stated, the Court determined that landowners should not be let off the hook when they negligently injure people in National Parks and other recreational area
The Court indicated that California "has a strong interest in promoting the safe driving of motor vehicles and in preventing or minimizing personal injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents." The decision "furthers these interests by encouraging property owners and their employees to drive safely on their lands so as to reduce collisions with, and injuries to, persons engaged in recreational activities on those lands."
Given the high court's reputation as one of the most innovative of state judiciaries, often setting precedents that heavily influence other state and federal courts, such a decision is potentially far-reaching. The rulings of California's highest court are by far the most followed of any state supreme court in the United States.
The underlying case involved Alan Klein, an air traffic controller, who was riding his bicycle for recreational purposes in a mountainous region of the Angeles National Forest. Tragically, Klein was struck head-on by an automobile driven by a part-time volunteer for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service who told the California Highway Patrol that he was on his way to observe birds for the agency when the accident occurred. As a result of the accident, Klein suffered catastrophic injuries which caused him to be medically retired. Klein sought to bring a negligence action against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who sent the case to the California Supreme Court, stated "it is of no small moment that the federal government owns millions of acres of National Park and National Forest land within the state of California. Shielding the United States from liability for the negligent driving, and possibly for other negligent acts, of its employees on all of these lands may have substantial and negative consequences for the many residents of and visitors to California who make use of federal lands for recreational purposes."
Thus, the Court emphatically determined that federal government cannot avoid liability, for example, a park ranger who negligently runs over a park visitor in his government vehicle while working in a National Park. A decision unfavorable to the United States raises serious implications, as the cost of defending and compensating for such injuries throughout the vast federal owned lands could run into millions of dollars per year, given the possibility of serious accidents of this type relating to recreational users and their activities.