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Monday, June 25, 2007

Golf Law: Of Errant Golf Balls, Property, and Trespass

Waterville_golf_course Just back from New Orleans, where I attended a colleague's wedding.  I have renewed interest in the jazz influence in property law.  And I'm now getting caught up on blogging: Sunday's New York Times has an amusing (if you're not involved in it in any way), story on the increasing problems of golfballs that go astray and hit houses along the course.  It begins:

When she moved into her retirement condominium on a golf course, Eleanor Weiner admired the lush, pristine views of the fairways and greens, a landscape she never had to mow or maintain. Not long after, as she prepared dinner, a golf ball shattered the kitchen window, whistled past her head and crashed through the glass on her oven door. Ms. Weiner retrieved the ball from her oven and stalked outside to confront the golfer who had launched the missile.

“He told me that’s what I get for living on a golf course,” said Ms. Weiner, who has lived for a dozen years alongside Rancho Las Palmas Country Club near Palm Springs, Calif. “That was the first time I heard that, but it surely hasn’t been the last.”

The intersection of errant golf shots and private property is not a new phenomenon. But with new gear that enables average golfers to hit a ball 250 yards, and with golf communities sprouting nationwide — 70 percent of new courses include housing — it is becoming an increasingly prominent problem. Most homes built near this country’s 16,000 golf courses may not be in the cross hairs of slicing duffers, but thousands are.

It continues, about a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts by Joyce Amaral:

Although the club existed decades before the house was built, a court ruled that the balls — and the golfers looking for them — were a trespass. The parties settled this month, with the club agreeing to shorten the No. 9 hole, which should keep the Amaral property out of the line of fire.

But Pete Cuppels, the club’s owner, said the settlement would probably put his low-cost nine-hole course out of business.

... “We modified the hole before the settlement, and we’ve already seen a big drop in return business. I feel worse that my name is on a ruling that could be like the Roe v. Wade of golf law. If the precedent is that golf course owners are responsible for every crooked shot hit by a novice or a good golfer, we’re all in trouble.”

In addition to an assumption of the risk (which is perhaps diminished as a defense by intentional trespass?), I might think there would be some off-setting of the benefits here: the value of the property goes up, in pretty direct proportion to the proximity to the golfcourse.  Is the interest benefitted the same as that injured?  Maybe not.

I have no doubt that there are going to be some good student notes on this in the next year.

Endnote: The public domain image of the Waterville course is from our friends at wikipedia.

Alfred L. Brophy

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Comments

Seems to me if the golf courses or the golfers offered to pay for the damage (instead of denying any liability), everyone would benefit.

Posted by: L Hill | Aug 8, 2010 5:52:54 PM

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