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Legal Liability

Golfer’s Legal Liability for Injury or Damage Caused

Recently one of the golfers hit a tee-shot from the 13th tee box and the ball went out of bounds on to the road and broke the windscreen of a bus. It happened once before from the same place when another golfer played with license to kill!

Some discussion went on subsequently and our President informed me that quite a few golfers asked him if there is insurance cover in the club to indemnify a golfer from action for damages, whether the incident happens within the course or outside. I thought it would be useful to enlighten our members about the legal liability.

The normal insurance cover taken by the club members assures liability to be met by the insurer for the act of insured (the golfer) for any injury caused or accident which has occurred in the course of play within the club premises. It does not cover insurance for accidents which occur outside the course, unless the Policy of Insurance covers third party risks outside the course also.

What then is the legal position regarding liability of a golfer when an incident of the above nature occurs, or when a passerby of the roadside is injured by a golf ball hit with some velocity and hit out of bounds with perfection and power? Such an incident can be compared to a road accident in which anyone can be involved by user of a motor vehicle. The injured person or the person whose vehicle or article is damaged can initiate action for damages. If someone is killed, there can be a penal liability but which may not be considered to be so grave to deny even a bail because there is an element of accident.

Thus penal liability arises under Sec.304A of the Indian Penal Code, which provides as follows: “Whoever causes a death of any person by doing a rash or negligent act amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment or either description or a …. Which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.”

A Caddy dies due to a negligent strike by a golfer and the case was dealt with by the Delhi High Court. In Shafi Goro versus State(2000 Criminal Law Journal 2172), the Delhi High Court has held that in the absence of culpable negligence in respect of death of caddy allegedly caused due to rash/negligent strike of player while playing golf, charges framed under Sec.304A against the player are liable to be quashed. This should be a great relief to all those golfers who play with killer instinct!

When I probed into the Civil Liability under law, I came across tow interesting cases. Normally a liability under common law arises under contract or under tort. The liability on hand is toutious. There is an English case regarding damage caused by a cricket ball. I reproduce the law laid down in the said case.

Injury by a cricket ball – Bolton V. Stone (1951) AC850

A person, being on a side road of residential houses, was injured by a ball hit by a player on a cricket ground abutting on that highway. The ground was enclosed on that side by a seven-food fence, the top of which owing to a slope stood seventeen feet above the level of the pitch. The wicket from which the ball was hit was about seventy eight yards from this fence and one hundred yards away from the place where the injury occurred. There was evidence that, while over a period of years balls had been struck over the fence on rare occasions, the hit now in question was altogether exceptional. It was held that the members were not liable in damages to the injured person, whether on the ground of negligence or nuisance. Although the possibility of the ball being hit on to the highway might reasonably have been foreseen, this was not sufficient to establish negligence, since the risk of injury to any one in such a place was so remote that a reasonable person could not have anticipated it.”

An Explosive Issue

There is a diametrically pooosite view taken by a Judge of the Kerala High Court in T.C. Balakrishna Menon & others versus T.R. Subramaniam & another (AIR 1968 Kerala 151). It was a case where fire works was displayed on a maidan. A fire explosive fell in the midst of a crowd causing injury to an onlooker. The Kerala High Court held that the Celebration Committee of Devaswom Board was liable for the damages to the injured person.

Conclusion

There can be legal liability arising out of the incident referred above. But the golfer concerned was elated and proclaimed that he shot a 73 on that day. Not one over the course though-he shot a bus in Route No.73!