David Jones Argues Before California Supreme Court Seeking Exception to Immunity for Government Employees Who Injure Parties on Federal Government Land
Jones' Relentless in Effort to To Vindicate Seriously Injured Client
Partner David G. Jones argued before the Califronia 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.
A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals believes that federal employees should not be let off the hook when they negligently injure people on federal lands within California, and the panel has asked the California Supreme Court to decide the question. In a published order, the Ninth Circuit certified the question to the California Supreme Court. Klein v. United States, 537 F.3d 1027(9th Cir. Cal. 2008))
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 David Anderberg, 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 panel expressed its impression of the importance of the issue,stating that "while the United States is placed in the same position as a private individual for purposes of the Federal Tort Claims Act, 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 stage is set for the determination of whether the federal government can 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.
Justice Ronald M. Gould, writing for the panel, indicated that "nothing . . . would lead us to think that the legislature aimed to give landowners an immunity from liability for negligent driving of their agents on their land when that negligence proximately caused damage to a recreational user of such land."