05-12-2011

Liabilities of golfers and golf clubs for injury to other players

The Scottish courts have recently given guidance on the circumstances when a golfer and a golf club can be liable for injury caused to another player.

Mr Phee, an inexperienced golfer, was hit in the eye by a ball hit from the 18th tee by another player while he was walking from the sixth green to his next tee. The other player had shouted the usual warning of ‘fore’. Mr Phee lost his eye and brought a personal injury claim against both the other player and the golf club. It was agreed that, if the player and/or club was liable, damages would be £400,000, but both denied liability.

Mr Phee argued that the other golfer owed him a duty of care, which he had breached by playing his shot when Mr Phee was within range. The other player argued that he had not breached his duty of care because:

  • Golf had social value and was not a risk-free sport, so any duty of care should be correspondingly low.
  • The shot had been a freak, and not reasonably foreseeable.
  • Mr Phee was partly to blame for not taking adequate precautions when he heard the shout of ‘fore’.

Mr Phee also argued that the club owed him a duty of care too. He said it should have carried out a risk assessment of the course but had not done so. The club argued that there had been no previous accidents so it had not breached its duty of care.

The court agreed with Mr Phee on both counts. It ruled that 70 per cent of the liability lay with the other golfer. It said that he should have been aware of the risk to Mr Phee, and that Mr Phee had responded appropriately to the shout of ‘fore’.

It also ruled that the club should have carried out a risk assessment. If it had, there should have been warning signs at the place where Mr Phee was hit or on the 18th tee where the other golfer had played his shot. The club therefore bore 30 per cent of the liability.

Recommendations

  • Golfers should be mindful of all other players in range, no matter how improbable that their next shot might hit another player or injure them.
  • Golf clubs should:
    • Carry out an initial and periodic risk assessment of their course, irrespective of whether there have been previous accidents and, particularly, consider signage to warn players and others of risks where appropriate.
    • Review their insurance arrangements.