The Ryder Cup has made headlines over the last couple of weeks – but not just for the quality of golf played. When a spectator was hit with a golf ball it might at first have seemed unremarkable; there are an estimated 12,000 golf related injuries each year in the UK, over a quarter of which are head injuries caused by a golf ball.
However, this particular injury has made the news not just because it occurred at one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, but because, according to reports, the victim Corine Remande has lost sight in one eye and is considering legal action.
This raises the question of whether it is possible to claim for compensation after being hit by a golf ball and if so, against whom?
In order to successfully make a compensation claim for being hit by a golf ball in the UK, evidence has to show that either the owners of the golf course or playing golfer were negligent. Golfers and clubs have a duty of care to follow, which must reasonably protect fellow golfers and spectators from the risk of being hit by a ball. However, the courts do appreciate that not all risks can be eliminated.
The duty of care includes ensuring that no one is in the path of an intended swing and calling a warning ‘fore’ when the shot is taken. Event organisers must also ensure signs are erected alerting spectators of potential hazards and that the course meets health and safety standards. Most event organisers undertake a risk assessment and put into place measures to prevent or reduce the risk of injury to players and/or spectators.
So, who would the defendant be? The Ryder Cup took place in Paris but if the claim were in the UK, there would be several potential defendants.
- The player - for not calling ‘fore’ when slicing a shot and seeing the ball veer into a designated spectator area.
- Event organisers - for not giving marshals or spectators instructions about possible risks/dangers. They would be vicariously liable for any inactions of the course officials on the day
- The course designer if it can be proved the course was designed in such a way that a risk of balls hitting players/spectators was increased.
For the claim to succeed, it would have to be established that the above potential defendants had a relationship with the claimant and that they owed her a duty of care. In this instance, the fact that the claimant was a spectator at a ticketed sporting event would easily establish this link in common law.
There is an element of risk involved when spectating at a golf tournament. An obvious risk is implied by the nature of the position of the spectators next to the fairway. Any golfer, no matter how professional, can hit a wayward shot at times and events such as the Ryder Cup are keen to make spectators aware of the risks in their terms and conditions.
The Ryder Cup’s Ground regulations state: 'Persons entering the venue do so acknowledging the general risks associated with the game of golf and attending a major golf tournament, including risks associated with errant golf shots.' It goes on to say: 'The ticket holder must comply with all applicable laws, signs, safety announcements and ground regulations whilst attending the event.'
The defendant may argue that the spectator was not concentrating on play enough and thus putting their own safety at risk. A spokesperson for Ryder Cup claims that ‘fore’ was shouted several times; an assertion that appears to be supported by video evidence.
Claims often fall in the favour of golf clubs and golfers if they can prove they have taken reasonable steps to prevent injury and the duty of care they owe to players/spectators has been discharged. In most spectator sports there will be an element of assumed risk taken by the spectator when attending the event (the doctrine of Volenti non fit injuria) and if the defendant can prove the spectator was aware of, and accepted this risk, then the defendant will have a defence to the claim. To eliminate a risk totally would potentially mean not allowing any spectators to attend, which is against the spirit of most sports played, and especially against the spirit of the Ryder Cup.
In this case, there are many factors to take into consideration, but it may come down to whether or not ‘fore’ was shouted and if spectators in the vicinity of the claimant heard the call from either the player or the course official. If this is the case, which on the evidence available appears to be so, Ms. Remande may have difficulty making a successful claim.
Kelly Ferguson is a personal injury solicitor at Bray & Bray Solicitors.