Think Safety Be“Fore” Hitting the Green This Summer

Close up of a golf ball on the field
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Michael Henry

“Man blames fate for other accidents but feels personally responsible for a hole in one,” writer Martha Beckman once joked. As the weather heats up, many of us hit the links dreaming about making that rare shot only to find ourselves keeping each other company while chipping out of sand traps.

This year in particular, many golfers are looking forward to returning to the links after two seasons of pandemic restrictions. While it is widely acknowledged that outdoor, non-contact sports offer a low risk of COVID-19 transmission, it should be noted that there are hazards lurking on a golf course beyond the ones we regularly hit into. Injuries can and do occur while in the clubhouse, using course facilities, or when operating carts.

Club Safety

A golf course, like any other space, is governed by law. The owner/operator of the golf course is obligated to provide golfers with a reasonably safe round.

As a personal injury law firm, we have helped many plaintiffs to demonstrate that the owners of a property were negligent in failing to follow rules and best practices to keep their customers safe. Although it is of course difficult to go ‘behind the scenes’ to verify all of the safety precautions employed at a particular course, golfers are advised to observe staff and the conditions of the premises and to note whether appropriate safety precautions are being followed.

An article in Golf Course Industry Magazine recommends owners/operators create a safety plan and perform internal or external audits to ensure potential problem areas are identified and corrected. External auditors with experience in the insurance industry or with risk-compliance matters can help club managers to reduce risk by developing safety protocols such as procedures for handling hazardous chemicals used to treat the grass, first aid training, regular equipment upkeep and inspections, and advising on many other safety topics.

Staff training is another essential element of a safe sporting space. All employees should be trained to identify hazardous conditions on the property that could result in injury and liability claims. Moreover, if an accident does occur, staff should be well-versed in procedures such as filling out accident reports that could be used by insurance companies or law firms. These reports generally describe the nature of the accident, the scene of the accident, any corrective actions that were taken subsequently, and whether employee training was adequate. Staff should be trained to take photographs of the scene for insurance purposes.

Service staff who provide alcoholic beverages to patrons have a special duty to insure it is served and consumed responsibly – in Ontario, all employees who are involved in the service of alcohol are required to be certified through a recognized program such as the Smart Serve program.

Courts have also found golf course operators to be liable for injury in instances where they have failed to discharge their obligations under the Occupiers’ Liability Act. Industry experts recommend that clubs take out insurance for buildings, equipment and other assets, as well as for members of a board of directors who may be found personally liable for incidents or other aspects of their management duties.

Responsible Golfing

While the onus is on club operators to follow all appropriate safety guidelines, golfers must also take reasonable steps to ensure each other’s safety. Liability can be found against any person who fails to take reasonable care and, as a result, injures another person. As with any activity, slip and fall accidents are an ongoing risk. Take care to watch for tripping hazards, and stay out of areas marked off limits.

Generally speaking, accidents involving motorized golf carts on the course likely won’t be covered by Ontario’s motor vehicle accident benefits regime, and your general home insurance policy may not cover acts of negligence occurring outside of the insured property either. It’s always a good idea to check your policies to see what is covered.

Golfers have been also been found negligent for striking a golf ball when they knew or ought to have known doing so was not safe for the people around them and causing physical injury. On the other hand, simply hitting bad shots that cause mental anguish to the group – that is not compensable.

Enjoy the game, be safe, and “may thy ball lie in green pastures and not in still waters.”

At Howie, Sacks & Henry we want to help fellow golfers who have been injured on the course through negligence. If you or a loved one have been injured in a golf-related accident, we would be pleased to speak with you about your experience, the nature of your injuries, and what benefits you might be entitled to claim. Please contact Michael Henry at 416-361-0889 or mjhenry@hshlawyers.com.


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