When the pandemic forced gyms, sports leagues, and exercise classes to close, many Coachella Valley residents took to our area’s amazing trails—to hike, to get exercise, and to safely get out of the house.
As a result, local hiking trails are busier than ever before—but what happens if you trip and fall while hiking? If you, for example, fall and break your leg, and the injury results in steep medical bills, can you get compensated?
The answer? That depends on a lot of things—and it depends first and foremost on the trail, said Kevin Crockett, the award-winning personal-injury attorney who heads up the Crockett Law Group.
“If you were to get injured, there may or may not be compensation for you,” Crockett said. “A lot of people automatically assume that, if I’m injured under any circumstances, there is going to be somebody to pursue—and that’s not always the case.”
Many local trails are located on government-owned land, while others are on tribal land, and yet others are on private land. Regardless of the trail, however, Crockett said you should act quickly.
“When you’re pursuing a private party, generally speaking, in the state of California, you have a two-year statute of limitations,” Crockett said. “But when pursuing a government entity, you generally have just six months to file a claim.”
“For a tribe, it could be 90 days; 180 days; two years. It all depends on the specific tribe. So that’s why you have to act really quickly in order to protect the claim, in case there is a sound legal argument.”
If you’re injured on land owned by a government entity, your case may—or may not—be hindered by something referred to as “trail immunity.”
“Under California Government Code section 831.4, a public entity is generally not liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition on a hiking trail,” Crockett said. “The rationale behind this is that it would be too expensive to hold public entities accountable. Trail irregularity is inevitable and constantly changes due to traffic, weather and natural settlements.”
Without trail immunity, cities, counties and states could decide to shut down recreational areas to the public. “The protection afforded by trail immunity allows residents to enjoy and explore trails without the risk of cities and other governments being sued,” Crockett said.
However, there are some notable exceptions to trail immunity. Crockett mentioned a 2017 decision by the California Court of Appeal that carved out one of these exceptions.
“In Toeppe v. City of San Diego, a branch fell from a eucalyptus tree and struck a woman in the head while she was walking through a park in San Diego,” Crockett said. “The court found that trail immunity did not protect the city from liability, because the injury wasn’t caused by a condition of the trail itself, but rather by the negligent maintenance of the eucalyptus tree.”
If this sounds confusing, the situation regarding injuries on tribal land is even more muddled.
“‘Tribal sovereignty’ refers to the fact that federally recognized tribes have the authority to govern themselves,” Crockett said. “It might be helpful to think of each tribe as its own independent country, separate from local, state and federal governments. Each tribe is subject to its own tribal laws and courts.”
“In the case of personal injuries, the way a claim is handled will generally depend on whether the injury takes place at a casino or somewhere else on tribal land. Most tribes that operate casinos enter into ‘compacts’ with the state and federal government, and those compacts oftentimes require certain policies of insurance for bodily injuries. But in the case of injuries on a hiking trail, it’s likely that no such compact will exist.”
That means an injury claim will be subject to the specific tribe’s laws and courts.
“In the Coachella Valley, one of the most prominent federally recognized tribes is the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians,” Crockett said. “Tahquitz Canyon and the Indian Canyons are very popular hiking spots on Agua Caliente land. If you’re injured while hiking through Tahquitz Canyon, you will be subject to Agua Caliente’s claims process, which has its own time period for filing claims and lawsuits. Further, Agua Caliente’s claims process and statute of limitations may be very different from another tribe. That is why it’s imperative for you to consult with an attorney experienced with tribal claims right away—or your claim may be forever barred.”
When it comes to Southern California, few personal-injury attorneys have deeper ties than Kevin Crockett. He was raised in Orange County and graduated first in his class at the University of California, Irvine, with a degree in criminology, law and society. Since earning his law degree from the UC Irvine School of Law, he’s only handled personal-injury cases—allowing him to hone his skills and become an authority.
Before he started his own firm, Crockett was a senior attorney at one of the largest personal-injury law firms in the Southern California. While there, he helped more than 1,000 accident victims and recovered millions of dollars for his clients.
Crockett started his own firm, Crockett Law Group, so he could be more hands-on with each of his clients—and give them each the one-on-one attention they deserve.
To learn more about the Crockett Law Group, call 760-999-4444, or visit crockettlawgroup.com.