Question: We own a second home in Prescott on a golf course. Yesterday our daughter was standing in our backyard when she was struck in the mouth by a golf ball. She may need dental work. The golfer was upset, apologized and gave me his name and address. Does this golfer have any liability for our daughter’s dental work?
Answer: The liability of a golfer for striking a golf ball is based on foreseeability. In other words, what is the “danger zone” (defined as the foreseeable deviation from the “intended area of flight”) for a particular golfer? For example, the danger zone for a Tiger Woods drive is different from the danger zone for the drive of a once-a-week-golfer. If another golfer or a person such as your daughter is in the danger zone, a golfer has a duty to warn (typically by yelling “fore”) prior to striking the golf ball.
In an Arizona court decision, a golfer at the Skyline Country Club in Tucson with a known propensity to “shank” a golf ball (striking the ball at almost 90 degrees of the intended line of flight) struck a fellow golfer in the eye. A golf professional testified at trial that this golfer during a recent lesson had shanked one out of every three shots when using a 7-, 8- or 9- iron. Inasmuch as the golfer had failed to warn the fellow golfer of this known propensity to shank a golf ball, the jury awarded damages to the fellow golfer for the injury to his eye.
In another Arizona court decision, a golfer driving off the first tee at the Arizona Country Club in Phoenix struck a woman who was hitting golf balls on the practice tee. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a jury could find that the practice tee was in the danger zone, which would require the golfer to give a warning before striking the ball. Therefore, the golfer who hit the ball that struck your daughter in the mouth should have liability for her injuries only if your backyard was in that golfer’s danger zone, and that golfer failed to yell “fore” or otherwise warn your daughter.
The golfer’s attorney may argue, however, that you and your family were aware of the risk of being struck by a golf ball when you purchased this home on a golf-course fairway. As one appeals judge stated, “Living on a golf course and living with golf balls necessarily go hand-in-hand.”