Living in a golf course community is the ultimate dream for many. However, a golf course address can equate to some rather nightmarish liability issues for many community associations. Those issues often stem from misdirected golf swings or “errant” shots.
There is no statutory law that governs golf ball liability. However, the Supreme Court of Florida has established that the driver of a golf ball is charged with the duty to exercise “ordinary care” for the safety of persons reasonably within the range of danger. Similarly, several other Florida courts have concluded that an operator of a golf course is not required to maintain the course in such conditions that no accident could possibly happen.
Nonetheless, according to such court rulings, the owner or operator of a golf course does have a legal duty to maintain the course in a reasonably safe condition, commensurate with the facts and circumstances that an ordinarily prudent person would generally exercise. Moreover, if a person knows of the existence of the course before moving into a golf course community, he or she is presumed to have “assumed the risk.” As such, generally speaking, that person cannot hold anyone liable for any damage or physical injury which may result from an errant golf ball.
The question of whether a community association can be held liable for errant shot damage or physical injury is dependent on several factors. If approached from a safety perspective, it is well-settled that a community association is charged with a duty of protection from foreseeable common element danger. Such duty arises because an association is usually held to a landlord’s standard of care regarding the common elements in its control. Additionally, the duty to protect against flying golf balls can also be compared to an association’s duty to protect its residents and invitees from foreseeable criminal acts.
Based on all of this, community associations are not automatically insulated from liability regarding errant golf balls. The potential for significant liability does exist. As such, an association’s governing documents and marketing materials should clearly provide that the association cannot be held liable for any damage or injury caused by golf balls hit from a community, or adjacent course. The disclaimer should also be included on the face of an association’s website and in periodic newsletters as well.
Finally, if an association is aware of errant golf balls flying into the community, it should also display signs to warn of the issue, given that the “open and obvious nature” of such a hazard may not always suffice to discharge an association of its duty to warn its membership and invitees of foreseeable potential harm. But, warnings do not necessarily discharge an association from maintaining its property in a reasonably safe condition. Thus, even if an association places warning signs regarding errant golf balls, it still has a duty to try to alleviate any known problems, in an effort to keep its premises safe.