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Torts in Golf

Torts in Golf

Golfers, spectators, and even third parties may be injured by a golf ball or other object on or off the golf course. The owner of the golf course or the golfer who causes the injury may be held liable in a negligence action to the injured party.

Owner’s liability

An owner of a golf course must exercise reasonable care in operating the premises in a reasonably safe condition for the safety of golfers and spectators. However, the owner obviously can not guarantee their safety from errant hits by golfers. The owner may be liable for injuries caused by errant shots only under certain circumstances. For example, if the owner designates a portion of the fairway from which spectators are to view a professional golf game, negligence may be found if a spectator is injured by a ball that is hit in that portion of the fairway. The owner may also be liable to golfers if defects in the premises or golf carts cause injuries to the golfers. The owner may incur liability if a spectator or golfer is injured due to the owner’s failure to enforce his or her own safety rules.

Third parties may also be injured during the course of a golf game. Pedestrians around the course or drivers on highways near the course may be struck by golfers’ errant golf balls. In such cases, the owner may be liable in a negligence action if the injury was caused due to the fact that the course was designed so that golfers had to hit the ball across a highway or that the owner failed to construct proper fencing between the golf course and other areas, such as the highway or parking lots.

An owner may further be liable in some jurisdictions due to the negligence of a course professional who works at the course. The owner’s liability will depend on the employment relationship with the professional, and the owner is more likely to be liable if the professional is an employee rather than an independent contractor. The owner may also be liable for any negligent acts by a caddy who is employed on the course.

Generally, municipalities that own golf courses may be sued in tort actions for negligence because the operation of a golf course is considered a proprietary, business-like function. Because it is not a governmental function, the doctrine of governmental tort immunity usually does not apply.

Golfer’s liability

A golfer must exercise reasonable care while on a golf course. However, he or she cannot ensure that each of his or her shots will travel on its intended path. Thus, negligence on his or her part may be found if he or she fails to give adequate and timely warning of a ball’s path by shouting “fore” to those in the range of danger of being struck. A golfer may also be liable if he or she causes injuries to another due to his or her reckless conduct while on the golf course, including the manner in which he or she operates a golf cart.

Defenses

Golfers and spectators generally assume the ordinary risks inherent in the game of golf when they venture onto the course. The most obvious danger is the risk of being hit by an errant golf ball, and an injured party may be denied recovery for an injury arising from such a situation unless the owner or golfer was negligent. An injured party may also be contributorily negligent if he is injured while driving a golf cart in a reckless manner or if a golfer’s club strikes him due to the fact that he was standing directly behind the golfer.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.