Fore! Exploring Liability in Golf

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Written By: Brandon Pedersen and Cody Malloy, Summer Student

Fore! Exploring Liability in Golf

For golfers in Ontario, it’s our favourite time of year.  After long, cold winters, those of us who love to hit the links with our friends can’t wait to get out and play in the summer heat.  As a matter of fact, the popularity of golf in Ontario is at an all-time high.  Those of us trying to get out on weekends may struggle to find the best tee times due to this increased demand, especially since the COVID-19 restrictions held back the Ontario golf season for a few extra weeks this year.

Although golf is meant to be fun, like any sport, there are risks to our safety.  Whether it’s injuries from errant shots, golf carts, or slip and falls on the course property, there are many liability issues surrounding golf.

Errant golf shots  

With hard golf balls buzzing around golf courses at high speeds, and various levels of ability amongst golfers, golf courses undoubtedly present safety risks.  There are times when golfers don’t have a good sightline to the fairway from the tee box, which causes players up ahead to be out of view.  With holes next to each other, there is also ample opportunity for a shot to stray to an adjacent hole and strike an unexpected player.

In the event, a golfer gets injured with an errant shot, who is liable?

Just like with a lot of legal questions, the answer is: it depends.

There is an implied assumption of risk (volenti non fit injuria) with golf, just like other sporting activities, but that assumption of risk is not unlimited.  Whenever litigation arises out of a sports-related injury, courts will often look at whether a defendant’s conduct is within the natural risks associated with the sport.

In Hayter v. Bezanson, 2009 NSCA 113, the defendant golfer was found liable when his errant drive struck another golfer and seriously injured his wrist.  The Court found that the defendant’s behaviour was not within the natural risks of the sport because the defendant took a running “Happy Gilmore” shot while under the influence of alcohol.  The defendant did not act with the reasonable care of a golfer.  The Court noted how golf shots are meant to be executed standing still, and the defendant’s behaviour, therefore, was not reasonable in the circumstances.

In Liang v. Allen, 2003 BCPC 95, the defendant golfer was found not liable after his errant shot bounced off a tree and struck the plaintiff in a nearby parking lot.  The Court found that the defendant had acted within the standard of a reasonable golfer because he did not intend to hit the plaintiff, and errant shots out of the rough can happen to any golfer.  Further, the Court noted how someone in the defendant’s playing group yelled “fore”, and the parking lot in which the plaintiff was standing was prone to flying golf balls.

In Matharu v. Nam, 2007 BCCA 268, the defendant golfer did not yell “fore” before his errant shot injured the plaintiff, but the Court held that the defendant golfer was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.  The defendant, an experienced golfer, took a shot that intended to clear trees near the green, but instead bounced off the trees and towards a nearby tee box, striking the plaintiff golfer.  The Court found that it was not reasonable to expect the defendant to yell “fore” in the circumstances.  The defendant had made the shot on the same hole in previous rounds, and the judge found it to be reasonable that the defendant expected the shot to clear the trees and continue towards the green from his sightline.  The Court also noted how it’s not reasonable to expect golfers to yell “fore” every time they lose sight of the ball.

Occupiers’ liability  

Hazards arising from golf carts or slip and falls give rise to liability for golf courses.  Golf carts do not require insurance to operate under the Off-Road Vehicles Act.  However, golf carts still present a danger to golfers.  If a golf course is negligent in maintaining a cart path, or do not provide warning signs to slow down on steep hills, a golf course could be liable under the Occupiers’ Liability Act (OLA).

Section 3(1) of the OLA states:

An occupier of premises owes a duty to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that persons entering on the premises, and the property brought on the premises by those persons are reasonably safe while on the premises.

Section 3(2) of the OLA further clarifies:

The duty of care provided for in subsection (1) applies whether the danger is caused by the condition of the premises or by an activity carried on on the premises.

A “condition” of a golf course giving rise to liability would be uneven landscaping or a puddle in the clubhouse, for example.  An “activity” of a golf course would be the act of driving a golf cart, or the game itself.  The OLA spells out the duties owed by an occupier to their visitors in ensuring their property is reasonably safe.

Although golf courses are kept in pristine condition, they present various risks to golfer safety.  Always pay attention when someone in your group taking their shot.  Ensure you are out of their intended shot path, and even if you are, be on alert in case of an errant shot.  Also, ensure you are able to hear any warnings of “fore” from nearby groups in case one of their shots goes astray.  Wet or uneven walkways on the course can be slippery when wearing golf shoes.  Make sure you take due care in navigating your way through the clubhouse.  Lastly, make sure to not drive at an excessive speed when driving a golf cart.  There are many obstacles and other golfers out on the course, and we all need to do our part to ensure the safety of ourselves and others.

If you have been injured on a golf course, McLeish Orlando is here to help.  Please contact us for a free consultation.  A lawyer at McLeish Orlando will evaluate your case and determine how we can best serve your needs.

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