A golf cart can feel like a safe, enjoyable refuge. It seems like a place to escape a shank or a hook, and a haven for nice, uplifting conversation. Fair enough, but that is not the whole picture. If you're not careful, driving a cart can lead you into turmoil and land you in court.
So says Bob Lang, an attorney for the Manhattan firm of D'Amato & Lynch and a member at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, who has published an article in Marquette Sports Law Review entitled, "A Good Ride Spoiled.''
He cites a study saying that 147,696 golf cart-related injuries were reported nationally between 1990 and 2006. Then he details the many ways carts have become litigious as well as dangerous.
"People forget that on a golf course, there are no set restrictions, no helmets, no turn signals,'' he said during an interview. "People think carts are toys. Someone will bring their grandson out there with them and say, 'Well, at least he can drive the cart for Grandpa.' This is never a good idea.
"This is a vehicle, and it's heavy,'' he said.
Lang was a longtime tennis buff who took up golf at his wife's suggestion. He grew to enjoy the game. As a litigator, he has handled a number of golf-related cases. The combination of his play and his work led him to research the not-so-smooth ride that golf cart liability has taken all over the country.
The most famous of all cart court cases, of course, was Casey Martin's 2001 victory in U.S. Supreme Court, allowing him to ride in a cart between shots in PGA Tour events. Martin suffers from a degenerative circulatory disorder that prohibits him from walking long distances.
Lang's article, though, is about liability cases involving everyday recreational golfers.
He cites Haig v. Geiger, an incident in which a golfer shanked his first shot, took a mulligan and hit another ball offline. It ricocheted off his own cart and hit another cart that had just pulled up, smacking into the eye of the passenger. That passenger sued the driver of her cart and won on appeal. The Minnesota court claimed the driver had parked in a hazardous spot.
In Ritenauer v. Lorain Country Club Ltd., Lang writes, a passenger was thrown from a cart that spun in circles as it slid down a slippery hill. The passenger sued the course, but lost when an Ohio court ruled that the wet grass was "an open and obvious danger.'' In contrast, a Hawaii jury ruled in favor of a spilled passenger in Dashiell v. Keauhou-Kona Corp., saying the course failed to warn drivers about the dangers of steep inclines.
Massey v. Brueden Corp. involved a corporate sponsor riding in a cart during a charity outing at the Yale University Golf Course. According to court papers, the brakes failed and she hit a tree. She sued the cart manufacturer but the court ruled in the company's favor because, among other reasons, the driver could not later identify the particular cart that was involved.
A Long Island case made his collection: Pappas v. Cherry Creek Inc. A passenger reported injuries after a cart tipped over during an attempted U-turn between the sixth and seventh holes of the Riverhead course. The passenger sued the driver (identified as a friend) and the course, but lost because the court found no negligence in course design.
The upshot of all this, in Lang's view, is that courses should give primers on cart safety, that no one should ever drive a cart while sitting on the passenger's side and that everybody ought to be really careful when dozens of carts are leaving simultaneously for a shotgun start. His summation? "Slow down, enjoy the ride and avoid accidents.''
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