CWL Secures Appellate Win for the City of Santa Barbara in Paddleboarder Death Case

News & Events

CWL Secures Appellate Win for the City of Santa Barbara in Paddleboarder Death Case

February 7th, 2022

CWL recently secured a significant win on behalf of the City of Santa Barbara when a California appellate court upheld a trial court ruling that the City was immune from liability in a wrongful death action alleging that the City’s negligence led to the drowning of a stand-up paddleboarder in Santa Barbara Harbor.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of California’s Second Appellate District unanimously held that the trial court was correct to grant summary judgment on the basis that the City of Santa Barbara was entitled to immunity under Cal. Gov. Code § 831.7, applicable to persons engaged in “hazardous recreational activities” on the property of a public entity.

The appellate court found that the plaintiff failed to prove three statutory exceptions to the immunity.  First, the City had no duty to warn against the danger of falling off a stand-up paddleboard and drowning because that risk is inherent in the activity.  Second, the evidence offered to support the claim that the City was grossly negligent was “nonexistent” as it had taken numerous steps to promote stand-up paddleboarder safety in the harbor.  Third, the City’s receipt of a portion of its tenant’s gross sales did not equate to the City charging a “specific fee” for permission to participate in stand-up paddleboarding.

Our public entity clients should be aware of this decision when managing bodies of water where hazardous recreational activities take place (e.g., boating, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, waterskiing) and when structuring contracts with tenants who offer such activities.  Privately-owned and operated marinas, wharves, and boat rental operations may also benefit from this decision in overcoming allegations of gross negligence.

The published opinion is entitled Mubanda v. City of Santa Barbara, 2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 58 (2022) and can be downloaded here.