Yet Another Hazard on the Golf Course


Hazards to a golfer’s health and safety that come most readily to mind involve swinging clubs and golf balls in flight, usually on unintended flight paths. But the sport also has other dangers lurking, including the garden variety slip and fall. When James, a golfer, sued a golf resort recently over such a mishap, his claim was dismissed, essentially because the particular risk at issue in his case should have been apparent to him and, as such, it was up to him to avoid it.

On an overcast and rainy day, James was playing golf with three friends at a private golf course. It began to drizzle early in the round, and by the 14th hole, the rain was coming down hard. Approaching the 15th hole, James and his friends discussed stopping play but decided to press on.

As James walked toward the green with one of his companions, they used stairs made of bricks and wooden railroad ties. James was familiar with the golf course, having played there on prior occasions. Although he had never before used the stairs leading to the 15th green, he had seen them.

After his friend walked down without incident, James followed and slipped on one of the first steps, breaking his ankle. At the time, it was raining and James was looking down, talking, and holding his putter in his right hand. Without incident, the other two in the foursome had taken an entirely different route on the grass, avoiding the steps.

James’s lawsuit did not fail for lack of effort, in that he enlisted an expert witness to buttress his theory that the resort’s negligence had caused his injury because the stairs had not been made slip resistant in wet conditions. The argument never got off the first tee, as it were, because the expert relied upon building code requirements pertaining to making “floor surfaces” slip resistant and the federal court hearing the case ignored the entire line of reasoning as “irrelevant.”

As the court saw it, it was obvious that such a building code requirement was never meant to apply to an outdoor golf course. For that matter, the stairs embedded in the ground at the 15th hole were not even part of a “building or structure” to which building codes apply.

Because of the court’s dim view of the expert evidence offered, James was left exposed to the resort’s contention, with which the court readily agreed, that James could not blame his unfortunate slip and fall on the resort or anyone else. In legal parlance, James had “assumed the risk” of walking on the wet stairs. The risk was obvious, inherent in the activity, and not so serious as to justify placing a greater precautionary burden on the resort operating the course. The court noted that this legal principle “facilitates free and vigorous participation in athletic activities.”