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Golfer Liability

Golfer Liability

Golf season is right around the corner. And as the weather starts to turn toward spring, many across the United States will begin to dust off their golf bags and head to the links.

Although playing a round of golf is intended to be relaxing, one can get injured while enjoying his or her round on the course. 

As an example of how a round of golf can go awry, there’s case Getz v. Freed, 105 A.2d 102 (Pa. 1954). It presents a fact pattern of which some amateur golfers can relate.

The facts of the Getz case are as follows: plaintiff and defendant were among two other golfers in a golf foursome that decided to play a few more holes after completing their round. Getz v. Freed, 105 A.2d 102, 103 (Pa. 1954). Defendant was teeing off on the additional hole and hooked his first drive out of bounds, nearly 30 to 35 yards toward a stone wall to the left of the fairway. Getz, 105 A.2d at 103.

Following the first drive, “defendant naturally played a second drive -- another very bad shot, which rolled about 40 yards from the tee into the fairway.” Id. Plaintiff and another golfer offered to find defendant’s first ball and walked toward the stone wall, roughly where the first ball went out of bounds, when plaintiff heard someone call “Look out, Charlie.” Id. Approximately a split second afterward, the plaintiff was struck on the back of the head by a golf ball the defendant hit as his third shot. Id.

The defendant argued the plaintiff assumed the risks of the game of golf, and that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in failing to not keep watch for another shot by the defendant. Id. In providing reasoning for its decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania articulated:

A person who plays golf assumes some risks of the game. (citation omitted). For example, he knows that every shot sometimes, and every ‘dub’ ofttimes, hooks or slices, and that when he is playing on a parallel hole or on a parallel area of ground he may be struck by a wild shot. He also knows that if his opponent or partner discovers his ball is out of bounds and returns to replay the shot and he intentionally remains within the orbit or possible orbit of the replayed shot, he risks being hit and injured. While few players know all the rules of golf, there are three rules and customs which all golfers know: (1) It is the duty of every player to give timely and adequate warning -- usually by the word ‘fore’-of a shot which he is about to make and which he has reasonable grounds to believe may strike another player, caddy, or spectator, either on the same hole or on a different hole (citation omitted); (2) a player assumes the risk or is guilty of contributory negligence and want of due care if he intentionally or carelessly walks ahead of or stands within the orbit of the shot of a person playing behind him; and (3) it is negligence for a player to drive, without warning, another ball when his prior drive is on the fairway or apparently within bounds.

Id. 

Based on the facts of the case, the Court held the defendant was clearly negligent in driving a third ball and defendant’s failure to warn of his intention to hit a third ball. Id. at 103-104. Specifically, the Court stated “[i]f defendant had played his second drive, plaintiff was behind defendant’s ball (although widely to the left) and consequently outside the orbit of defendant’s next shot, so that it would have been impossible for defendant to hit plaintiff if he had played his second ball.” Id. at 104. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the lower Court did not err in its refusal to instruct the jury on assumption of the risk and contributory negligence because the lower court could not hold and a jury could not find “plaintiff knowingly placed himself in a position of danger or assumed the risk of being hit or was guilty of contributory negligence.” Id.

The Getz fact pattern is one that some golfers can relate to during a round. A couple of bad tee shots and one wants to hit another to have a better start to the hole. The Getz case provides an interesting insight to the risk a golfer assumes when playing a round of golf, and the duty one golfer owes to other golfers on the course.

It is important to understand the steps golfers should take to protect other golfers. For instance, golfers should yell “Fore!” when one hits a ball the golfer believes could hit another golfer. Also, a golfer should make sure the group in front of him or her is far enough ahead to ensure that the golfer cannot hit into the other group. Lastly, before a golfer decides to hit a second or third shot, the golfer should tell the other members in the golf foursome of his or her intent to hit another ball. All of these considerations should be done to protect oneself and others on the golf course.

Whether one shoots in the triple digits or is a scratch golfer, it is important to consider one’s surroundings on the course. If one is attentive to all golfers on the course, then one’s golf around should be fun and relaxing. Enjoy the golf season!

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