Should golfers have to worry about golf cart injuries on the links? The Michigan Supreme Court considered whether the risk of golf cart injuries is inherent to the sport, essentially deciding “it depends.”
Golfer Suffers Golf Cart Injuries on the Green
Kenneth Bertin and Douglas Mann are golfing buddies, or at least they were until Mann accidentally struck Bertin with the golf cart. According to Bertin, he had landed his ball on the green of the eighth hole and parked the golf cart 10 to 15 feet away to make his putt. After he took the shot and was walking to retrieve his ball, he was struck by Mann who was driving the golf cart. Mann, for his part, said he thought Bertin was behind the cart and didn’t see the golfer before he hit him. Bertin sued Mann for causing his golf cart injuries, and the appeals went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Assumption of Risk While Playing Sports
Normally, under Michigan law, one person (the plaintiff) can sue another person (the defendant) for personal injuries caused by the defendant’s negligence. Either the defendant did something he or she shouldn’t have done, or didn’t do something he or she should have done. This is called “tort” liability, or personal injury law.
However, when people are participating together in a recreational activity – like playing golf – the rules are a bit different. The court assumes that participants in a sport voluntarily assume the risks inherent to that sport. Golfers accept that they may be hit with golf balls, “just as a fencer accepts the risk of a thrust by his antagonist,” said Justice Cardozo. When the injury that results is inherent in the activity, a defendant is only required to pay for tort damages if he or she engaged in “reckless misconduct.” In golf, this may include not calling out “Fore!” before striking the ball, or throwing a golf club in frustration.
Are Golf Cart Injuries Inherent to Golf?
The question for the courts in Bertin v Mann, was whether golf cart injuries were inherent to the sport of golf. The trial court said they were and advised the jury to only award damages if Mann was reckless in driving the golf cart. The Court of Appeals took a more philosophical approach. It said that golf carts were a relatively recent addition to the sport, and there was no evidence to suggest the golf course required the use of carts. If carts were banned the sport would “remain virtually unchanged”, so they did not pose an inherent risk or relax a golfer’s duty of care.
But the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed. It took this case as an opportunity to clearly state how judges should determine which standard to apply, and to lay out factors for trial courts to consider in future cases. The Court said:
“[W]hen determining whether a risk is inherent in a recreational activity for purposes of establishing the relevant standard of conduct, the fact-finder should ask whether the risk was reasonably foreseeable.”
Defining what is reasonable for players to expect, the Court said, depends on several factors. The rules of the game are part of the analysis, but not the end of the process. The Court directed judges to consider:
- Whether the type of harm is the kind that could be expected
- If the mechanism (in this case the golf cart) that caused the injury is the type a person would expect
- The relationship of the parties to each other
- The parties’ experience with the sport
- The parties’ relationship to the activity that caused the injury
- The rules of the game
- Any “house rules” or departures from the standard game the parties used
- Any regulations imposed by the venue (in this case the golf course)
Ultimately, the Michigan Supreme Court couldn’t decide whether the golf cart injuries suffered by Bertin were reasonably foreseeable under its newly established test. It sent the case back to the trial court in Oakland County so the judge could gather more facts, apply the test and decide which standard to apply.
At Macomb Law Group, our personal injury attorneys can help you understand how the law works and get the recovery you deserve. If you or a loved one have suffered golf cart injuries or other sports-related injuries because of someone else’s recklessness, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.