This week’s case takes us to a golf course about an hour north from the Bronx in Monroe, a pretty town in Orange County. The golf course sponsored the Andrew Glover Youth Program, which is a program for at-risk youths.
One beautiful day at the course, during a fundraising event, Hilda was riding as a passenger in a golf cart that was driven by Andrew. Hilda had been assigned to monitor a par-three hole for any player that got a hole in one.
Here is what happened:
After traveling past a small slope the golf cart, which was moving very slowly, seemed to be lacking in power. Andrew decided to return to the clubhouse to recharge it or get a new cart. After turning around, the golf cart began to gain speed. Hilda asked Andrew to slow down or stop, but he continued. As the golf cart was going down a hill, Andrew made a sharp left turn to go into the parking lot area at full speed, which Hilda estimated to be between 20 and 30 miles per hour, and Hilda "flew out of the cart." Hilda was injured. Hilda sued the golf course and Andrew.
Here is what Hilda’s testimony on cross-examination looked like:
Q. Andrew was not licensed to operate a motor vehicle, was he?
A. I did not know that he was not licensed at that time.
Q. Well, you knew that he was a minor?
Q. You never asked Andrew whether he had a license?
A. No, I did not. I do not remember asking him that.
Q. You mean, you might have asked but you do not remember?
A. No. I did not ask him if he had a license.
Q. But you told Andrew to drive you back from the clubhouse to the green, right?
A. Yes, sir. I did.
Q. And you never asked Andrew whether he should even be driving a golf cart?
Q. In fact, you were Andrew’s supervisor?
A. Not exactly; but I was his superior in the program. I had my own supervisor.
Q. In fact, you did not want to walk back to the clubhouse?
A. Not if I didn’t have to.
Q. And you ordered an unlicensed 17-year old, to drive you back.
A. That’s what happened.
Q. And then you sued Andrew.
A. And the golf course. For severe injuries
Q. Objection. And I move to strike the answer as not responsive.
Court. Sustained. The answer is stricken.
The rule in this area of the law is that golfers are held to a common appreciation of the fact that there is a risk of injury from improperly used carts on a fairway can happen. A person who plays golf is held to have consented to those commonly-appreciated risks.
However, the court noted that a nonparticipant may also be subject to a defense based on the doctrine of assumed risk. The court gave an example of an umpire in a baseball game. Although the umpire was not playing baseball, he was aware of the risk of being hit by a ball. Here, Hilda knowingly and voluntarily rode in a golf cart operated by Andrew. What matters is the context of the injury – here, it was on a golf course.
Hilda argued that she was not playing golf, and that she was forced to assume a risk that was not part of her job. The court noted that there was no evidence that Hilda was required to ride as a passenger with Andrew, or that she complained to her employer about any danger of riding in the car with Andrew driving, or that she received any assurance of safety, or that she received a directive from her supervisor to ride with Andrew.
Finally, because Hilda could not establish that Andrew’s operation of the golf cart was so unique as to create a dangerous condition over and above the risk inherent in golfing activity, Andrew could not be held responsible for Hilda’s injuries.