A Superior Court Judge in Essex County recently held that golf partners in a group are not obligated to yell “fore” when someone in their group hits a shot that may hit a golfer in another group. Plaintiff, James Corino, claims he was injured while playing golf at Skyview Golf Club in Sparta, New Jersey, when he was struck in the eye by a golf ball hit by Defendant, Kyle Duffy, who was playing in another golf group with Co-Defendants, Thomas Schweizer and Bryan Chovanec. Plaintiff was waiting for the Defendants’ threesome to tee off from the 16th hole before he took his shot from the fairway at the 15th hole. Defendant Duffy was the last to tee off, but decided to take a “mulligan,” which sliced to the right and struck the Plaintiff, causing shards of glass from his sunglasses to severely lacerate his eye.
Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Thomas Schweizer, Bryan Chovanec, and Kyle Duffy behaved recklessly and violated the Rules of Golf by permitting Duffy to take a mulligan and by failing to call “fore” or otherwise warn the Plaintiff of Duffy’s errant shot as it approached the 15th fairway. Plaintiff further alleged that the decision to allow Duffy to take a mulligan was made by all three defendants, therefore, Schweizer and Chovanec should share in liability. However, the Court held that the Plaintiff failed to cite any legal authority to support the contention that the reckless conduct of one player is attributable to all members of the golf group. It is the state of mind and conduct of the actor, or in this case golfer, that is essential to a finding of recklessness.
New Jersey’s seminal case regarding golfer liability on the golf course is Schick v. Ferolito, 167 N.J. 7 (2001). In Schick, a plaintiff golfer suffered an eye injury after being struck by an unannounced provisional ball hit by a member of his foursome. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was standing out in front of the defendant in the middle of the fairway, a location that the Court recognized as the “line of fire.” The Court also established that “recklessness” is the appropriate standard for determining tort liability in golf and held that “an actor acts recklessly when he or she intentionally commits an act of unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow, and which thus is usually accompanied by a conscious indifference to the consequences.” Id. at 19. The Court in Schick determined that a reasonable jury could find that the defendant’s decision to take an unannounced provisional shot “while perceiving plaintiff to be in the “line of fire” constituted reckless conduct. Id. at 21.
… a player should call “fore” if he sees that his shot may strike or injure another party; this does not apply to the player’s partners.
In the case at bar, the Court determined that “although… an action requires a determination of state of mind or intent, it is not the state of mind or intent of either Mr. Chovanec or Mr. Schweizer that requires assessment here.” The Rules of Golf expressly state that a player should call “fore” if he sees that his shot may strike or injure another party; this does not apply to the player’s partners. Though the Court made this determination, it is interesting to note that they did not expressly specify whether a player’s failure to call “fore” on an errant shot rises to the level of “recklessness” described in the Schick case. Rather, the Court indicated that such a determination is best left for a jury to decide. Nevertheless, though you may not be obligated, yelling “fore” seems to be the appropriate thing to do, especially per the Rules of Golf.
Plaintiff filed a motion seeking to have the Court reconsider the potential liability of Defendants Chovanec and Schweizer by applying a standard of ordinary negligence, rather than the heightened “recklessness” standard for tort liability in recreational sports. However, the Court affirmed that recklessness, not negligence, is the proper standard to be applied. Defendant Duffy also moved for Summary Judgment, but the Court determined a jury must conclude whether or not his conduct involving the errant shot was reckless under the circumstances.