Who is liable for errant golf shots? The answer may surprise you.

An agent asks, “A golfer shanked a tee shot into a house located alongside the fairway.  The golfer is sorry, goes to his insurance company, and turns in a liability claim.  The insurer denies the claim, saying it was an ‘accident’ and they don’t pay for accidents like that. Coincidentally, the house the golfer hit was also insured by the same company.  Do you think this claim is covered by the HO policy?”

There appears to be two possible reasons for this denial:

  1. The insurer just wants to save $250 (or whatever the deductible is) by paying the claim under Section I of the homeowner’s policy.
  2. The insurer feels that golfer isn’t legally responsible for the damage.  He may feel a moral obligation to pay for the damage, but that doesn’t mean that he is obligated under the law to do so.

Sometimes an insurer’s refusal to pay a claim is simply on the basis that they feel their insured has no liability.  Too often, that premise is abused, but in this case it appears that the insurer may be on sound legal ground, depending on the facts and circumstances.  Clearly, if a suit is filed, the insurer must defend the claim.

What are some of the legal issues involved when a golfer damages property with an errant golf shot?

There is a fairly significant body of case law dealing with the liability of golfers for errant shots.  In general, the fact that a golfer struck a golf ball and the result was bodily injury or property damage does not constitute proof of liability or negligence.  The injured party must prove that the golfer failed to exercise ordinary care by, where possible, giving adequate and timely warning of a miss-hit golf ball.

Specifically, with regard to the original question about damage to the neighboring property, most claims arise out of allegations of nuisance or trespass.  Most of these types of claims are more likely to be successful against the golf course, a defense of assumption of risk or constructive notice of hazard is often successful, as long as the course had not been modified and barring allegations of improper design that are upheld.

The bottom line is that the insurer might very well be right–the golfer is not legally liable and coverage is most appropriately obtained on a first-party basis from the homeowners policy.

Information from the Big “I” Virtual University.