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Legal Strokes 

SLICING CAN HURT MORE THAN YOUR GAME:

Who's Liable for Damage to Golf Course Homes?

 

Shirley M. Cheung, Esq.

     Hooking, slicing or shanking a golf ball is a part of the game of golf and cannot be entirely avoided-even by the best golfers. At times, golf balls veering out-of-bounds may cause property damage in neighboring residential areas, such as broken windows and dented car hoods. Who pays for the damage is dependent on the specific facts and circumstances, but a majority of courts have made it difficult for adjacent homeowners to recover from either the golfer or the golf course.

     Individuals who purchase homes next to golf courses enjoy the serenity, picturesque views, and social benefits associated with living in country club surroundings. Along with the considerable benefits, these individuals must also accept the inconveniences and drawbacks. Courts have generally held that adjacent homeowners are on constructive notice that an occasional stray golf ball may find its way onto their property and that they "assume the risk" of any potential damages. This rule does not apply in every situation, but typically where the operator of the golf course made reasonable efforts to minimize the risk of harm and the golf ball hazard had not substantially increased from the time the home was purchased.

     In a perfect world, the golfer who made the "bad shot" will voluntarily come forward and take responsibility for the damage that he or she caused. However, the reality is that not everyone does the right thing in this circumstance or, in some cases, the golfer may not be aware of the damage.

     Nonetheless, it is often difficult to identify the responsible golfer and,

even if the golfer was located, under the assumption of risk doctrine, the

homeowner may still be unable to recover the damages if the golfer does not voluntarily offer to pay. While all golfers have a duty to exercise

reasonable care to assure that no person or property is harmed, any

intentional act or failure to exercise reasonable care would be tough to

prove.

     Homeowners may attempt to recover damages from the golf course itself by claiming negligence in the design (or redesign) of the course, particularly of the hole(s) adjacent to their property. Generally speaking, the golf course can avoid liability if it can show that it was safely designed and constructed so that no unreasonable risk of harm exists. Examples of preventive measures include alignment of tees, fairways, and greens so as to direct drives away from homes; strategic placement of trees, shrubbery, and other landscaping; and installation of high fences or barriers. In some situations, developers of golf course communities have used restrictive covenants to reduce their liability by shifting all risks associated with living adjacent to a golf course to the homeowners, including the risk of property damage or personal injury arising from stray golf balls.

     Nevertheless, golf course operators must pay reasonable attention to minimizing the golf ball hazard to adjacent homeowners and should survey the existence and proximity of residential homes and determine whether golf balls frequently enter those areas. If residential areas have more than a reasonable exposure to golf balls, adequate corrections should be made to reduce the risk.

     Golf course operators can take other measures to assist homeowners such as implementing procedures to identify and locate golfers when damage occurs. The parties can then meet to resolve the matter. The effectiveness of this measure would depend on whether the homeowner is aware of the damage at the time it occurs and whether the responsible golfer steps forward.

     The lesson to be taken from this article is that persons who own homes next to or near a golf course should make sure that their homeowners' insurance policy covers damage due to flying golf balls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

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Revised: April 12, 2011