California Court of Appeals, Third District, Plumas
from a judgment of the Superior Court of Plumas County, No.
CV1000225 Janet Hilde, Judge. Affirmed.
Jay-Allen Eisen Law Corporation, Jay-Allen Eisen; Law Offices
of Reiner & Slaughter, Russell Reiner, Todd E. Slaughter
and April K. Gesberg for Plaintiff and Appellant.
Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Joseph A. Salazar, Jr., Jeffry
A. Miller and Jonna D. Lothyan for Defendants and
Acting P. J.
assigned to fight a wildfire, plaintiff and appellant Rebecca
Megan Quigley was severely injured when a water truck ran
over her as she slept at the fire base camp. She sued, inter
alia, defendants and respondents Garden Valley Fire
Protection District, Chester Fire Protection District, and
their employees Frank DelCarlo, Mike Jellison, and Jeff
Barnhart for damages, claiming she was injured as a result of
their negligence, a dangerous condition of public property,
and defendants' failure to warn. The trial court granted
nonsuit against plaintiff's complaint on the bases that
defendants were statutorily immune from liability and the
firefighter's rule prevented plaintiff from recovering.
Because we agree defendants are immune from liability for
plaintiff's injuries, we affirm the judgment.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
review of a judgment of nonsuit, we “ ‘view the
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'
” (O'Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th
335, 347.) Thus, “the court must accept as true all
favorable facts asserted in the plaintiff's opening
statement, indulge all legitimate inferences from those
facts, and disregard all conflicting evidence.”
(Ewing v. Northridge Hospital Medical Center (2004)
120 Cal.App.4th 1289, 1296.)
“Silver Fire” broke out in the Plumas National
Forest on September 19, 2009. The United States Forest
Service (the Forest Service) initially managed the effort to
fight the fire. It set up a base camp at the Plumas County
Fairgrounds. The base camp included a sleeping area for
firefighters. Forest Service rules required the Forest
Service, when establishing a camp, to provide a quiet, shaded
sleeping area away from smoke, noise, and dust, to post signs
designating the area, and to rope off the area.
Plumas County Fairgrounds has a racetrack with a large grassy
infield. The Forest Service set up a shower unit on the
infield and arranged for an independent contractor to service
the unit. The unit included two 1, 500-gallon
bladders to hold water: one bladder held fresh water and the
other collected used water from the showers. Employees of the
independent contractor would drive 30, 000-pound water trucks
onto the infield to service the bladders. The truck drivers
were never given a map or directions showing where they could
drive on the infield to access the bladders.
the fire might affect structures, the Forest Service called
in a non-firefighting team, referred to as NorCal Team 1
(NorCal 1), to manage the fire and the base camp. NorCal 1
took control at noon, September 20. Individual defendants
DelCarlo, Jellison, and Barnhart were members of NorCal 1.
The three men, all retired Forest Service employees, became
employees of defendant local fire agencies Chester Fire
Protection District and Garden Valley Fire Protection
District in order to serve on NorCal 1.
was a Forest Service firefighter on a hotshot crew working
the Silver Fire. She and her crew returned to the base camp
around 9:00 p.m., September 20, after fighting the fire all
day. The designated sleeping area was full, so most of the
crew members slept in and around some horse barns in filthy
conditions. Not wanting to sleep there, plaintiff asked her
supervisor if she could sleep on the infield. Her supervisor
agreed. Other people were already sleeping on the infield in
tents and in sleeping bags on the ground. Earlier that day,
DelCarlo had ordered a California Conservation crew to sleep
near the shower unit, and he had authorized a different
hotshot crew to sleep on the infield. The infield was never
signed or roped off as a sleeping area.
arose the next day, September 21, and left the base camp with
her crew to fight the fire. During the day, Barnhart, a
safety officer, inspected the camp, including the shower unit
and the infield. He saw the tents erected in the infield by
the California Conservation crew. Nevertheless, he recorded
on a form that all sleeping areas were separated from
parking, shaded, and posted as a “sleeping area (no
came back to the base camp that evening around 9:00 p.m. As
was the case the previous night, the designated sleeping area
was full, so her crew returned to the filthy horse barns to
sleep. Plaintiff again received permission to sleep on the
infield. As she had the night before, plaintiff slept on the
grass in her sleeping bag.
10:00 p.m. that evening, an employee of the independent
contractor drove his water truck onto the infield to service
the shower unit. He retrieved the used water, and as he drove
off the infield, he ran over plaintiff. The truck crushed
plaintiff's chest, ribs, lungs and left shoulder, and it
fractured her back. The accident permanently damaged her
heart, lungs, and eyes.
plaintiff's opening statement at trial reciting the above
facts, defendants moved for nonsuit. Defendants contended
they were immune from liability under various provisions of
the Government Claims Act (the Act) (Gov. Code, § 810 et
seq.). Of relevance here, defendants claimed
they were not liable pursuant to the immunity provided by
section 850.4, which immunizes public agencies and their
employees against claims “for any injury resulting from
the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or
facilities or, except as provided in Article 1 (commencing
with Section 17000) of Chapter 1 of Division 9 of the Vehicle
Code, for any injury caused in fighting fires.”
Defendants also contended they were not liable under the
common law firefighter's rule, which generally prevents a
firefighter from recovering damages for negligence that