May 19, 2008

Golf Guru

Things every golfer should know

Q: I know that a golfer isn't liable for hitting another golfer on the course. What liability issues are there for hitting and damaging a car passing by? A home on a golf course?

--Scott Troutman / Norristown, Pa.

A: Readers would be most unwise to take any legal advice from a magazine columnist who wasted his youth on a golf course instead of at a respectable law school. Nevertheless, undeterred, often wrong but never in doubt, The Golf Guru will press on. Methinks that a golfer is not usually liable for hitting other golfers on the course, unless that golfer can be shown to be guilty of recklessness. Mere negligence, or incompetence, is not usually sufficient to establish liability, because the risk of being hit by an errant ball is foreseeable and is assumed by all golfers.

On the other hand, golfers (and golf courses) have been held liable for damage or injury caused by a stray ball hitting a passing car, based on a finding of negligence (legally less stringent than recklessness). Why? Because drivers on a public road, minding their business, humming a favorite tune, thinking about what to have for supper, do not foresee or assume any risk of injury. As for golf-ball damage to a house on a golf course (as opposed to one on an adjacent public street), it might be that the homeowner has a case only if the offending golfer is guilty of reckless or intentional misconduct, because it could be argued that buying a house on a golf course carries with it some assumption of risk. Often the golf course and/or the homeowner will carry insurance to cover these eventualities.

I thought it would be appropriate here to relate a completely gratuitous lawyer joke, but given that this magazine's legal department is so kind and helpful, I thought better of such mean-spiritedness. It's really a pity that 98 percent of lawyers somehow manage to give the whole profession a bad name.

Send your questions to the Golf Guru.