FOREGROUND! For many of us, this simple word means only one thing: duck! Hide your head for fear of a small but hard white projectile falling like a meteor. Suddenly your leisurely day on the links is interrupted by the chance of a golf ball hitting your head. While the chances are undoubtedly in your favor that the ball will fall harmlessly somewhere around you, quite often people are struck by stray golf balls and sometimes suffer serious and permanent injuries.
With millions of golfers across the country playing every day, literally billions of balls fly around every year, many of which end up in places they weren’t aimed at. This not only results in personal injury. Houses lining golf courses, as well as cars driving on streets parallel to fairways, are damaged by the hooks and slices that many golfers seem unable to straighten (and we don’t even count the occasional angry flying golf clubs). All in all, there’s a lot more going on on the golf course than just drives, chips and putts. There can be a lot of legal liability as well.
In order to begin analyzing a golf liability situation, the level of care must first be established. When golfing, the law requires you to exercise due diligence towards all foreseeable victims around you, to act as a reasonably prudent person who is aware of all dangers and circumstances. In short, you must act in accordance with the safety of others.
If you hit your ball in the direction of the group in front of you because they are playing too slowly and someone is being hit, you have violated your duty of care towards the person hit. You have not acted as a reasonable person waiting for the fairway to clear. Even if you had no ill will towards them but acted recklessly and should have known they were within your reach, it would be considered negligent act on your part, holding you liable for any damage caused.
But what about the real accidents? What if you do everything in your power to act safely and conscientiously, but your three-stick blow cuts out and collides with a teammate? Or bounce off a tree and hit a caddy? Well, if you had no intention of meeting someone and you had no reason to believe that your shot would pose a threat, you weren’t negligent.
In addition, it can be argued that anyone who enters the golf course is taking some risk. Even under the best conditions with top safety precautions, there is always a risk of injury in sport. Golfers know this and still play voluntarily, just like a soccer player or boxer does. You have to accept that spending three or four hours on the greens could result in injury through no fault or negligence.
Now that summer has arrived, I’m sure many of you can’t wait to grab your clubs and tee off. But remember, a little prevention goes a long way in avoiding a difficult situation.
Some of these tips can help:
Make sure there is enough distance between you and the party in front of you before swinging. The time you hit your longest shot is usually the time you should have waited. If your shot is taking too long, you should call out a warning.
Don’t let the slow pokes play on the next hole frustrate you. Slapping in their direction to speed them up can only cause problems for you. It might be better to approach them if you can and ask them to play them through. If that fails, report them to the course guard who can peacefully seat you in front of them.
Take into account the circumstances such as your gnawing hook or slice, the direction and strength of the wind, and any trees or rocks that your ball could ricochet off. If this results in injury, it can be evidence of your negligence as you should have known better.
If your ball hits someone or even a passing car, don’t run away. Instead, offer help and face your responsibilities. It will get a lot worse for you if your monogrammed golf ball tracked you down.
Golf can and should be great fun. However, always take the appropriate steps to ensure a safe and trouble-free day. Always consider the safety of others and you should be free from golf liability.
Marc Page is an attorney with a law firm in downtown Westerly. Licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut, he can be reached at 401-596-1726.