Golf liability hard to show without intent

Golf liability hard to show without intent

July 10th, 2013 by David Uchiyama in Sportsgolf

Traffic on North Moore Road passes the par-3 second hole of the Brainerd Golf Course.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Hitting into the group ahead on a golf course is flat-out rude.

Even if it's an attempt to send the message to speed up, it's an unkind gesture and violates the etiquette of the game.

It's also illegal.

It may not land a golfer in jail, but it falls under negligence, in which a golfer who injures somebody while knowing his or her shot could hit a person likely would have to pay a fine.

"The courts have a pretty good view of that," said Dalton B. Floyd, who teaches a class on the laws of golf at the Charleston School of Law.

Errant shots are one thing, in the eyes of the law. Hitting at somebody on purpose is a different story.

"The courts say that the golfer is not guaranteed to hit it straight," Floyd acknowledged. "They understand you can't hit it straight all the time. The golfer is not liable, so [the injured party] tries to put liability on the course."

In our current litigious society, anybody can sue somebody else for just about any reason. Sometimes litigation results from incidents on golf courses.

"You'd have a hard time showing that I was negligent if I hit a bad shot and clocked somebody," said Chattanooga attorney Jeff Ruffalo of Summers & Wyatt. "I hate to make a blanket statement, because it depends on the facts of whether it was a bad shot or was it what they were trying to do.

"If you just hit an errant shot, although you may be sued, it may be difficult for the other person to win."

Chattanooga is blessed with more than 60 golf courses within about a 70-mile radius of the downtown courthouse. Many of them are nestled in communities where an errant shot could crush a windshield or whack somebody walking a dog.

Several holes at the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club parallel busy roads with trees as a buffer, but a ball could get through.

A slice off the tee at the last hole at Lookout Mountain Golf Club could hit a walker or jogger. A hook off the second tee at Brainerd Golf Course could end up on North Moore Road. Somebody slicing a range ball over the net from the Moccasin Bend range could crack a windshield.

Several holes at both Valleybrook and Creeks Bend bring the bustling road of Hixson Pike into play with wayward shots.

The most worrisome of errant shots in the Chattanooga area, Ruffalo said, is one that leaves Brown Acres and flies onto Interstate 75.

"I've thought about Brown Acres myself," said Ruffalo, who quit playing the game in favor of other interests. "That's a question that has so many different possibilities. I can envision a scenario where a number of entities would be responsible."

So hit it straight -- as much as possible -- and then hope all entities have paid their insurance bills.

"Be careful," Floyd said. "People should assume the risk when they know they're playing golf."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.