By Adam (AJ) Allegro
Recently, a friend called me to discuss an incident that occurred while he was playing a round of golf. He explained that while teeing off, he drove the ball into the window of a house located on the left side of the golf course on the other side of a fence. As a result, he feared that he might be held personally liable for the damage done, despite the fact that he simply drove the ball, as any golfer normally would, and was unlucky enough to shank it to the left.
After researching the topic, I came to a fairly clear legal conclusion: A golfer is generally not liable for injuries or damages due to an errant shot by the golfer, except in situations in which the golfer is negligent, reckless, or acting with intent. This means that when golfing, if a player is acting reasonably, they will not be held liable for the damages described above.
Back to my friend’s story: In his action of simply driving the ball, as a reasonable golfer would, the mere fact that he hit the window of a neighboring home (or let us assume, for greater severity, he instead hit the person who lived in the home rather than property) would not, in itself, make my friend liable for the damage caused, as he did not do anything negligent or otherwise wrongful. As the authoring Judge of Ohio’s Supreme Court stated a few years back, “[It] is well known that not every shot played by a golfer goes to the point where he intends it to go. If such were the case, every player would be perfect and the whole pleasure of the sport would be lost. It is common knowledge, at least among players, that many bad shots must result although every stroke is delivered with the best possible intention and without any negligence whatsoever.” Thompson v. McNeill, 53 Ohio St.3d 102, 559 N.E.2d 705 (1990)
The same standard would also apply if an errant shot caused a ball to cross a road near a golf course and either hit a passing vehicle or injure a pedestrian. Without some showing that the golfer was acting unreasonably (lined up facing the road, intentionally made an effort to hit a vehicle, etc.), it would almost certainly alleviate the golfer’s legal responsibility for damages resulting from her or his shot.
As such, I felt confident letting my friend know that from a legal perspective, Connecticut law strongly supports that he could not be found liable for the damage done to window he struck, as any such liability would either fall on the golf course (through a major design flaw that placed neighboring homes at risk in the normal process of those playing the course) or, even more likely, that the neighbor assumed her or his own risk in making the decision to reside next to a golf course. As such, it would likely be left to the neighboring resident to take the initiative to build a protective barrier from golf balls, or otherwise attempt to protect her or his property from errant shots, or else have to fend for her or himself if something was damaged by errant shots during the normal course of golf.
Overall, I came to two main conclusions in researching this legal issue: (1) Even if a golfer will not be found liable for the damages done in scenarios like my friend’s, it’s hard to break someone’s window during a golf shot and not feel not feel somewhat responsible despite the legal standard; and (2) anyone who decides to live alongside a golf course should consider the risk he or she assumes from errant shots and the lack of liability that will likely be attributed to reasonable golfers.*(The second point is stunningly obvious to anyone who has attempted to play a round with me and my friends before).
1 AJ Allegro is a Connecticut licensed attorney practicing in Trantolo & Trantolo, LLC.’s Hartford, CT office