Dangers posed by park employees
Sunday, August 15, 2010
At a Bay Area park on the Peninsula, I rounded a bend on a service road on my mountain bike and suddenly encountered a pick-up truck barreling right at me. I barely dodged it.
Turned out it was driven by a ranger pal I've known for years. Chagrined, he offered a "sorry about that" - apology accepted, my friend - and said he was heading out to check on a report of an illegal campsite.
On another day, deep in national forest, I was driving to a remote lake on a narrow, bumpy dirt road, truckin' along in 4-wheel-drive at about 10 mph, rounded a bend and nearly got wiped out by a guy ripping straight at me from the other direction at about 35 mph. It was one of those green Forest Service pick-up trucks. A very close call. The driver didn't hang around to discuss the situation, blazing off in a cloud of dust.
Everybody I know has had the same thing happen. In parks and national forests, rangers, biologists and other employees are thinking about their work while they drive from Point A to Point B, and they can sometimes forget anybody else is out there. You end up with a near miss. Or worse.
That's all going to change. They're going to have to slow down and pay attention. Or they and the agency they work for will likely pay dearly when they hit somebody.
A California Supreme Court decision came down last month that ruled workers in parks and national forests, and the agencies that manage them, are liable for injuries caused by negligence such as poor driving.
The case is called Klein v. United States. According to court documents, Alan Klein was riding his mountain bike on a road in Angeles National Forest when a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, heading out to study endangered condors, was driving the other direction and hit him head-on. Klein sustained catastrophic injuries, according to his attorney, David Jones.
Jones told me that when he first brought the case, the U.S. government denied any responsibility for the accident and said Klein had no right to bring the case.
The state Supreme Court ruled otherwise. "Now we start the case over," Jones said.
"This kind of thing happens all the time," Jones said. Rangers and employees "have to keep an eye open, driving through the parks."
In a more formal statement, Jones said: "This decision will certainly ensure that the millions of people who love the outdoors and the adventure that it provides will do so in a safer environment. Those surrounding them are responsible for their actions and suffer consequences when someone is injured."
Simply stated, land owners, such as the Forest Service and park departments, are on the hook for negligence by their employees, like bad driving, that causes accidents and injuries for people out biking, hiking or any other recreation.