Golf Course Backs Out of Liability to Injured Golfer

by

Parsons v. Arrowhead Golf (Indiana)
(Court Holds that Golf Course Owed No Duty to Prevent a Golfer’s Back Injury Suffered When He Stepped Out of Golf Cart.)

The defendant managed an 18-hole golf course where the plaintiff was playing golf. The plaintiff stepped off of a golf cart, landed “straight-legged” and immediately experienced lower back pain. The plaintiff stated that the drop was four to twelve inches deep, and that he had not noticed this irregularity on the grounds during his past years of golfing experience on this course. Plaintiff had golfed here once per week for over two years. The manager of the course had regularly inspected the grounds for dangerous conditions and moved walking paths as necessary to ensure that they did not become worn out. In this particular instance, the manager had placed stone where the plaintiff was injured. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant had failed to take reasonable safety measures by negligently maintaining the premises and failing to warn him about the danger. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant based on assumption of the risk, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court held that the proper standard of care for sporting events and practices was to “avoid reckless or malicious behavior or intentional injury.” Under the primary assumption of the risk doctrine, a party assumes the risks inherent to a particular sport, and there is no duty owed to the plaintiff to avoid those risks. Plaintiff argued that the danger he encountered was not the type that was inherent in the sport because it was not reasonably foreseeable (i.e., he did not assume the risk of a defect in a designated walkway from the cart path to the green).

In analyzing the duty of care, the court noted that plaintiff was required to prove all of the following: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, arising from the relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff; (2) breach of this duty by the defendant; and (3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach. The ultimately Court found: (1) the relationship of the parties was based on plaintiff’s participation in the game of golf, and plaintiff was very familiar with both the game of golf and the subject golf course; (2) golf is played outside, on grassy and often uneven surfaces, and injuries from stepping on uneven surfaces are an inherent risk of the game, and it was reasonably foreseeable that plaintiff could have been injured while stepping onto the green; and (3) plaintiff was in the best position to prevent the injury that occurred while he was golfing. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court ruling.

Seeking to avoid the application of assumption of the risk, plaintiff argued that the case was more analogous to a slip-and-fall premises liability case than a case involving an injury in a sporting event. However, the Court again disagreed noting that plaintiff response to defendant’s motion failed to meet the burden of setting forth specifically designated facts regarding a breach of duty, and plaintiff failed to provide any evidence showing an unreasonable risk of harm.

NOTE: Applying assumption of the risk often comes down to analyzing what it or is not part of the game. Had the plaintiff been injured by a condition on the premises while walking along a path to the first tee, the result may have been different. Court’s are often hesitant to make bold proclamations about risks that are inherent in a sporting activity. However, this court properly focused on the fact that varying conditions and surfaces, and walking along all parts of the course, are important parts of the game of golf. The golf course’s ability to present affirmative evidence of inspection and maintenance was certainly beneficial. The more a defendant provides evidence-wise to demonstrate an interest in avoiding injury, the better.

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