Court: California Courts of Appeal
Docket: D076228(Fourth Appellate District)
Opinion Date: July 9, 2021
Judge: Cynthia Aaron
Areas of Law: Admiralty & Maritime Law, Government & Administrative Law, Personal Injury
Plaintiffs Michael and Crystal Haytasingh appealed a judgment entered in favor of the defendants, the City of San Diego (City) and Ashley Marino, a City lifeguard. Plaintiffs sued defendants after an incident that occurred at Mission Beach in San Diego in August 2013, while Michael Haytasingh was surfing and defendant Marino was operating a City-owned personal watercraft. Plaintiffs alleged Marino was operating her personal watercraft parallel to Haytasingh, inside the surf line, when she made an abrupt left turn in front of him. In order to avoid an imminent collision with Marino, Haytasingh dove off of his surfboard and struck his head on the ocean floor. Haytasingh suffered serious injuries. Plaintiffs alleged that Marino was negligent in her operation of the personal watercraft. Prior to trial, the trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action, finding Government Code section 831.7 provided complete immunity to defendants on the plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action. After that ruling, plaintiffs amended their complaint to allege they were entitled to relief pursuant to two statutory exceptions to the immunity provided in section 831.7. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury ultimately found in favor of the defendants. On appeal, plaintiffs contended the trial court erred in concluding that the immunity granted to public entities and their employees under section 831.7 barred plaintiffs from pursuing a cause of action for ordinary negligence against the City and Marino. Plaintiffs also contended the trial court erred when it concluded, prior to instructing the jury, that the City and its lifeguards were not required to comply with the state’s basic speed law set forth in Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.2. Plaintiffs contended the court’s instructional error with respect to the speed limit issue constituted reversible error because the state’s basic speed law was relevant to the standard of care that Marino was obliged to meet, and was therefore relevant to whether Marino’s conduct constituted an extreme departure from the standard of care. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in determining that section 831.7 provided defendants with complete immunity with respect to the plaintiffs’ cause of action for ordinary negligence, given that Haytasingh’s injuries arose from his participation in a hazardous recreational activity on public property. However, the Court also concluded the trial court erred in determining that Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.2’s five-mile per hour speed limit did not apply to City lifeguards, and in instructing the jury that all employees of governmental agencies acting within their official capacities were exempt from the City’s five-mile per hour speed limit for water vessels that are within 1,000 feet of a beach under San Diego Municipal Code. This error, the Court held, was prejudicial. It, therefore, reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings.
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