Leon B. Silver and Andrew S. Jacob of the Phoenix office of Gordon & Rees authored an article published in Law360 on August 24. The article, titled “Legal Hazards on the Golf Course,” reviews how courts have handled cases of liability resulting from serious injuries on golf courses and their recommended steps that a golf course should take to minimize risk.
First, Silver and Jacob discuss the types of injuries that can occur on the golf course. “A golf club strikes a ball with approximately 1,400 pounds of force. That is a heck of a lot of force if an errant ball hits a player, spectator, worker or golf course neighbor.” Injury from lightning and golf carts are rare but can occur while injuries from golf balls are most common. “All together more than 41,000 people a year in the United States need emergency-room care as a result of a golf-related injury. This comes out to an average of approximately three such injuries per golf course per year.”
The authors go on to discuss the theories of liability and defense. The plaintiffs in these claims against the golf courses are claiming negligence in design or management. “Aside from defending on a theory of compliance with standard of care, golf courses can assert defenses of assumption-of-risk, governmental immunity and comparative negligence. Plaintiffs also assert claims of negligence against golfers, often for failing to warn the plaintiff before taking a shot that struck the plaintiff. Defenses in those cases are often based on either a lack of duty to warn or doctrine that applies a recklessness standard to establish liability.”
Silver and Jacob agree that there are steps golf courses can take to minimize the risk of serious injuries from errant balls and golf carts. “Barriers should be placed where such zones may extend to adjacent tees or fairways. Signage should advise of tricky turns on cart paths and rules should be posted advising against underage or intoxicated patrons operating carts. The course should post and follow its policy on warning patrons about impending lightning storms. Common rules of courtesy should be posted, such as asking players to ensure that their individual zone of danger is clear before they hit the ball. Finally, if a golf course is being built as part of a housing development, consideration should be given to obtaining easements that protect the course from liability related to errant balls.”
Silver is the co-Managing partner of the Phoenix office of Gordon & Rees and serves as National Practice Group Leader for the firm's Retail & Hospitality Practice Group. Jacob is of counsel in the Phoenix office and a member of the Appellate and Commercial Litigation Practice Groups.