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Minor Golf Cart Collision on Indiana Courses Considered “Ordinary Behavior” and an Inherent Risk in the Game of Golf

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By Codie J. Ross, Esq.

February 20, 2017

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently found that a man’s negligence claim against a fellow golfer who struck the back of his golf cart cannot proceed because driving a golf cart is normal behavior, with its attendant risks, for participants in the sport.

The decision stems from the case of David D. Wooten v. Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC and Bernard J. Chamernik, 63 N.E. 3d 1069 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016).  David Wooten and Bernard Chamernik were each invited to participate in a golf tournament sponsored by the Caesars Riverboat Casino at its golf course, Chariot Run Golf Course, in August 2012.

During the tournament, teams were allowed to drive the golf carts on the fairway. James Malles, another teammate, was driving a golf cart with Wooten as the passenger, and Chamernik was following behind. At one point, Malles stopped the golf cart on the downward slope of a hill, and as Wooten was “leaning up to get out of the cart,” Chamernik hit them from behind at a low rate of speed, throwing Wooten backwards but not out of the cart.  Wooten was eventually diagnosed with whiplash, neck sprain and strain. 

More than a year later, Wooten filed a negligence claim against Caesars, Chamernik and Malles. Malles was dismissed from the complaint, Wooten settled with Caesars and the Harrison Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Chamernik in April 2015.

Wooten appealed, asserting that the designated evidence established that Chamernik’s action was outside the range of ordinary behavior of participants in golf. Specifically, Wooten said that because “golf carts are not necessary for playing the game of golf, it cannot be said that golf cart activities are ordinary behavior or are an inherent risk in the game of golf.”

But the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed with that argument, noting that “the use of golf carts in golf outings has become ubiquitous and a rather mundane occurrence on the fairway because walking ‘would just slow things up.’”  The Court also pointed to Chamernik’s testimony that he was looking to find his golf ball when he was driving the cart.  The Court noted that it is not “unusual for a golfer to look for the ball from the cart”.

The Court of Appeals leaned on the precedent set by the Indiana Supreme Court in Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), which found that negligence claims against participants in sports activities can only be supported if the participant’s conduct is outside the range of ordinary behavior in the sport.  Indeed, in that case the Supreme Court found that an errant shot hit by a golfer was conduct considered within the range of ordinary behavior in the sport.  Likewise, the Court found that a golfer’s failure to yell “fore” was also within the range of ordinary behavior.

Analysis

The good news for owners and operators of sports, leisure, hospitality, and entertainment facilities is that normal risks associated with ordinary conduct do not increase exposure.  However, liability will still attach when facilities allow reckless behavior.  If you have any questions regarding this recent decision or its impact on sporting facilities or other entertainment entities, please contact any member of our Retail, Hospitality and Entertainment Facilities Practice Group.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.

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