Fore! Can a claim for personal injury by a golf spectator succeed?

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18 October, 2018

A woman was hit by a stray ball at the recent Ryder Cup tournament held in France. US team member Brooks Koepka was playing a shot on the sixth hole when his ball unfortunately struck a spectator in the eye. The lady involved is said to have lost the sight in her right eye after she suffered a fractured eye socket and damaged eyeball.

It has been reported that the spectators by the green were not warned that the ball was heading in their direction, although organisers say that "fore" was "shouted several times". Many of the newspapers have reported that the lady plans to bring legal action. This incident occurred in France but what would be the legal position if a similar accident had occurred in England and Wales?

The organisers have a duty pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe. A Court will consider what warnings were in place and the steps taken by the organisers to ensure the reasonable safety of the spectators. For instance, did the player and officials shout "fore"? Was there adequate signage around the course? Had the landing zones been clearly marked? Was a warning given prior to the event in the terms and conditions or on the back of the ticket?

Of course, spectators must accept a degree of risk by attending such events. It should be obvious that if you attend a golf tournament there is a chance that you might get hit by a ball especially if the incident occurred during normal play.

In a recent Scottish case, David McMahon, was a ball spotter at a golf tournament. He suffered a rupture of the right eye after he was struck by a wayward shot. He brought a £500,000 claim for damages. Lord Jones in the Court of Session held that there was a duty of care but it had not been breached. He commented that "the danger of being struck by a ball was a risk incidental to the competition which was accepted by the pursuer when undertaking the task of officiating".

Forbes comment

To be in a position to successfully defend similar claims, organisers must demonstrate that they had carried out a detailed and comprehensive risk assessment, they must also be able to produce evidence that the claimant had been adequately warned of the risks and that the player and marshals had shouted "fore" to warn the spectators in accordance with the Rules of the game. As long as an organiser can satisfy to the court that it had acted reasonably, then the Judge is likely to conclude that the spectator had assumed a degree of risk by attending a live sporting event and dismiss the claim.

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