The short answer to the question, “Who is responsible when a serious injury occurs on a golf course?,” is: “It depends.” If a company or another person violated a safety rule, or was careless and caused injury, they may be liable. It is also true that it just might not be anyone’s fault unless a the person injured can prove someone on the golf course, or the owner and operator of the course or other entity, was unsafely negligent.
In a 1997 Illinois appellate court decision, two golfers were playing together when the ball hit by one of them hit the other in the head. The injured golfer sued his friend for negligence. The defendant claimed that, in order to collect, the plaintiff needed to prove that the defendant was not just negligent, but had acted in a wanton and reckless manner.
The appellate court engaged in a comprehensive discussion about the differences in non-contact sports, like golf, and contact sports where having contact with other players or a ball are part of the game. Those injured while playing in a contact sport must prove the one who caused the injury acted in a wanton and reckless manner, an elevated form of negligence.
The court held that golf, on the other hand, is not a contact sport because “There is never a need for players to touch one another.” Since golf is not a contact sport, the court concluded that a player injured by the golf ball errantly hit by another golfer need only prove “traditional negligence in order to recover damages rather than willful and wanton conduct.”
Assumption of the Risk
The assumption of the risk doctrine arises out of the common law and “states that in instances where a person knows of the risk of an activity, that person accepts the risk when voluntarily engaging in the pursuit.” Key to the definition is that the person must know of the risks involved in the activity.
Application of the doctrine to golfers hit by golf balls, golf clubs, or golf carts while on the golf course
The doctrine applies to golfers who are hit by errant golf balls or even flying club heads. These types of accidents are considered just part of the sport of golf and to be expected. A few years ago in Wisconsin, a golfer was struck in the right side of his head by a ball that was hit by his partner. The injured golfer was taken to a hospital and died a few days later due to his injury, which caused a cerebral hemorrhage. No one was liable, since the injured golfer assumed the risk of being hit by a ball when he stepped on to the golf course to play.
This also applies to golfers being hit by golf balls or golf clubs that may fly out of a golfer’s grip. It may even apply to those being hit by golf carts that accidentally crash into them depending on the circumstances of the crash and where it occurred.
The general conclusion by most courts, in Illinois and other states, is that it is common knowledge that golf balls do not always end up in the exact spot players intend when they hit the ball. Players assume this risk when they themselves get on the golf course to play the game.
When Assumption of the Risk Does Not Apply
In 2004, an Illinois appellate court refused to apply the assumption of the risk doctrine when a woman, who was a passenger in a golf cart, was struck in the head with a golf ball as her sister was driving their golf cart near the pro shop. The court concluded that since the owner had installed many safety precautions around the pro shop, like locating it away from the direction of the fairway and building a fence around the clubhouse, it was not reasonable for golfers to expect to be hit there by an errant golf ball. Therefore, the assumption of the risk doctrine did not apply.
Application of the Doctrine to Adjacent Property Owners and Spectators
The assumption of the risk doctrine applies to those who voluntarily attend a golfing event as spectators, or even those who park in a parking lot next to a golf course. It also applies to those who live in homes adjacent to the golf course. This was confirmed by an Illinois Court concerning a woman who lived in a home bordering on a West Chicago golf course.
The woman was gardening in her yard when she was hit in the head by an errant golf ball. She sued the golf course and the golfer for her damages. The case wound its way through the legal system before the golfer was lucky and had the case dismissed by a judge who found that the woman assumed the risk when she chose to live adjacent to the golf course. The golf course had settled with the woman just a few days before the court decided to dismiss the case.
Exceptions to the Assumption of the Risk Doctrine
There may be exceptions to this rule if the plaintiff can prove that the golfer or golf club owner or operator was “grossly and recklessly” negligent. Some examples are:
- The golfer was angry and intentionally slammed the ball into another person or threw the golf club and hit another person on the golf course.
- The golfer was inebriated and acted negligently in the way he or she was attacking the ball.
- A golf cart was driven in a negligent way or by a drunk golf cart driver.
One extreme example of alleged negligence was presented not too long ago when a golfer on a course in Elk Grove Village claimed he was on the seventh hole when seriously injured. According to a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, a porta-potty fell off of a forklift, hitting the golfer and knocking him unconscious. The golfer sued the forklift operator as well as the owner and operator of the golf course where the incident occurred. The court will likely agree that the golfer did not assume the risk of being hit by a porta potty when he decided to play golf.
Our Golf Course Attorneys Can Help
If you were seriously injured on a golf course, and you believe it may have been caused by someone’s negligence, contact one of our golf accident attorneys at the Blumenshine Law Group (312)766-1000 or email at [email protected]. We gladly offer a free no obligation consultation.