FORE! For many of us, this simple word means only one thing: Duck! Hide your head out of fear of a small yet hard white projectile falling like a meteor. Suddenly, your leisurely day on the links is interrupted by the chance of a speeding golf ball meeting your head. Though the odds are undoubtedly in your favor that the ball will fall harmlessly somewhere around you, the fact of the matter is that people are struck by errant golf balls quite often, sometimes suffering serious and permanent injuries.
With millions of golfers across the country playing every day, there are literally billions of balls flying around each year, with many of them landing in places they were not aimed at. And it’s not only personal injury that results. Houses lining golf courses as well as cars traveling on roads parallel to fairways suffer their share of damage from the hooks and slices many golfers can’t seem to straighten out (and we are not even counting the occasional angry flying golf club). All in all, there is a lot more going on at the golf course than just drives, chips and putts. There can be a lot of legal liability as well.
To begin to analyze a golf liability situation, the standard of care involved must first be determined. When golfing, the law imposes on you a duty of care, owed to all foreseeable victims around you, to act as a reasonably prudent person appreciating any dangers and conditions that exist. In short, you must act in accordance with the safety of others.
If you hit your ball toward the group in front of you because they are playing too slowly and someone is struck, you have breached your duty of care owed to the person who was hit. You have not acted as a reasonable person who would have waited until the fairway was clear. Even if you have no ill will toward them but you acted reckless and should have known they were within your range, this would be considered a negligent act on your part, opening you up to liability for any damaged caused.
But what about the true accidents? What about when you do everything in your power to act in a safe and conscientious way, but your 3-wood shot slices out of bounds and collides with a fellow golfer? Or bounces off a tree and hits a caddy? Well, if you had no intent to hit anyone and had no reason to believe your shot would pose a danger, you were not negligent.
Additionally, it can be argued that anyone who walks the golf course assumes a certain amount of risk. Even under the best conditions with top safeguards in place, there is always a risk of injury in sports. Golfers know this and voluntarily play anyway, the same way a football player or boxer does. You must accept that if you spend three or four hours on the greens, you may be injured through no one’s fault or negligence.
Now that summer is here, I’m sure many of you cannot wait to grab your clubs and tee off. But remember, a little prevention goes a long way in avoiding a sticky situation.
A few of these tips may be helpful:
Make sure there is plenty of distance between you and the party in front of you before you swing. The time you hit your longest shot is usually the time you should have waited. If your shot does go a little long, be sure to shout out a warning.
Don’t get frustrated with the slow-pokes playing on the next hole. Hitting in their direction to speed them up can only cause problems for you. It may be better to approach them when you can and ask to play through. If that fails, report them to the course ranger who can place you in front of them peacefully.
Take into account the circumstances like your nagging hook or slice, the direction and strength of the wind and any trees or rocks your ball may bounce off. If injuries result from any of these, it may be evidence of your negligence in that you should have known better.
If your ball should strike someone, or even a passing car, do not run away. Instead, offer assistance and face up to your responsibility. Things will be far worse for you when you are tracked down by your monogrammed golf ball.
Golfing can and should be great fun. However, always take the appropriate steps to make it a safe and incident-free day. Always take into account the safety of others and you should be free of golfing liability.
Marc Page is an attorney with a general law practice in downtown Westerly. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut and can be reached at 401-596-1726.