The Intersection of Golf and the Law

Nature 11Although it may not be very likely that you will end up talking to a lawyer instead of the 19th hole bartender after a round, it happens more often than you might imagine.

And as a public service, here’s one spot where the law intersects golf with some frequency: a par 3 on a busy course.

Why? Because that’s where the traffic bottlenecks happen, and those make people impatient and short-tempered. Golfers waiting irritably on the tee often don’t wait for the players in front of them to get in their carts and drive away or walk a safe distance from the green after they’ve putted out.

So these golfers on the tee, who feel aggrieved because they’ve been waiting for several minutes, fire away anyway, even if people are still lingering near the green. Sometimes, this is done with purpose — it’s a warning shot meant to get people to move along faster (even though that preceding group probably had to wait as well).

Well, guess what? If you hit somebody in your haste — getting hit with a golf ball often causes severe injuries — you are probably going to be found liable by a court and could pay some significant damages to the person you hit.

“The golfer is responsible for making sure that other golfers are out of the way before they hit,” said Robert Lang, a New York-based lawyer who has handled dozens of golf-related cases. “Yes, it’s true they aren’t responsible for hitting someone one or two holes away because they slice a ball, but if you’re on the tee and someone is near the green of the hole you are aiming at and you hit that person, you’re liable.”

In other words, multiple courts have ruled that golfers aren’t accountable for errant shots, but hitting someone in your intended line of fire is not an accident.

Which leads to public service tip No. 2: Be careful when hitting mulligans. There are a lot of lawsuits generated by the act of reteeing and smacking a second tee shot, especially by the last golfer to tee off in a group. That’s because everyone reasonably expects each golfer to hit only one tee shot, and the rest of the group starts driving or walking down the fairway or otherwise does not stand in a protected area.

The mulligan swinger is often already irritated and, without looking, hurriedly tees another ball and whacks away. When he hits one of his playing partners, nasty injuries have ensued, as have successful lawsuits.

“You really have to be careful on the golf course because you’d be amazed at all the ways the law can come into play,” said Dalton B. Floyd, a South Carolina lawyer who has represented many golf courses, clubs and golfers. Floyd teaches a class in golf law at the Charleston School of Law.

“We take the law students out on the golf course and go over some things,” Floyd said.

For example, did you know that a club is responsible for making sure the yardage markers embedded in the fairway or marked on a cart path are reasonably accurate? One golfer hit another golfer standing on a green because an inaccurate yardage marker indicated he was farther away than he actually was. The golfer sued the club for misleading him and causing injury, for which he was initially held liable. When the yardage marker was proved to be incorrect, the club was then held responsible.

Floyd also instructs golf course owners to scrupulously check all their cart paths, bridges and other walkways for irregularities or dangerous conditions.

“Slip-and-fall cases are more common than anything,” Floyd said. “The club can be found negligent.”

Golf courses can also be sued for design flaws that lead to the beaning of golfers — imagine a tee on the first hole that too easily endangers golfers on the adjacent second hole. The remedy might be to plant a line of trees.

Then again, if those trees obscure the view of some nearby homeowner who always loved the view of the second hole from his patio, that could prompt another suit. Of course, if another house on the golf course is being peppered by an inordinate number of wayward golf shots — some houses are hit 100 times a month — the golf course could be compelled by a court to put up some more trees or a screen to protect that house.

So, it can become complicated. And I haven’t even talked about what happens when a private club expels a member for offensive behavior and the member sues. That can get uglier than a triple bogey.

There are so many places to go in this discussion and myths to debunk. Let’s take that time-honored tradition of yelling “fore” if you think someone might be hit by your shot. Surely, that absolves you of liability if something goes wrong, right?

“Yelling ‘fore’ is not a legal defense,” Lang said. “It might avoid someone getting hit and it might be acting reasonably, but if you shouldn’t have hit your shot in the first place because someone was in your intended flight, you’re still in trouble.”

O.K., so we’ve already got enough people who are afraid to take up golf because of all the rules and such; I don’t want to scare others off the course because they’re afraid of litigation, too. The fact is that the golf tribe gets along pretty well during the nearly 500 million rounds played annually in America. But here are two other sensible considerations while you’re out there:

■ Keep your golf cart on the path whenever you can, avoid steep hills — going up or down — and keep your feet inside the cart.

“People treat the golf cart like a toy,” Lang said. “It’s easy to tip it over, and there are no helmets or restraints. Once you’ve seen that happen, you’ll never think about a golf cart the same way.”

■ Golf rage is more dangerous than rage in the grocery store line.

“At the grocery store, there might be shoving or maybe a punch,” Lang said. “On the golf course, people sometimes start swinging a golf club. These are not pillow fights. If someone angers you or vice versa, it’s a good idea to avoid a confrontation.”

In closing, I have a simple way to guarantee that you will stay out of court after a round of golf. Go buy some truly flamboyant, golf-centric outfits, and don’t be conservative about your choices. Then wear them whenever you play golf.

It’s hard to get all worked up or act like a jerk when you’re wearing goofy golf shoes, a pink argyle vest or bright blue slacks. It puts you in your place, which, as it happens, is one of the most beautiful outdoor settings for miles around. And perhaps then you will remember that you’re out there trying to have some fun.

Dieser Beitrag wurde unter Klage abgelegt und mit , , , , , verschlagwortet. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink.

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert