A fire that started at the Trinity River Lumber Company mill caused significant damage because there was insufficient water pressure flowing into the mill’s fire suppression system to enable the mill’s sprinklers to extinguish the fire. Trinity River and its insurer, United National Insurance Company, sued Weaverville Community Services District, the government entity providing water in the area. The plaintiffs blamed the District for the lack of water pressure, claiming that the District procured a contractor who while performing routine maintenance on a backflow valve in the water system on the mill’s property, left the valve almost completely closed. The trial court granted the District’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the District was immune from tort liability under Government Code section 850.4, which immunizes public entities from liability “for any injury resulting from the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or facilities.”
The District retained Horvitz & Levy LLP to defend against the plaintiffs’ appeal. The plaintiffs raised numerous theories to avoid the reach of section 850.4, primarily that the statute did not immunize government entities from liability for fire damage resulting from the condition of privately-owned fire protection facilities. The Court of Appeal (Third District) rejected each of the plaintiffs’ theories and affirmed the summary judgment.