SW Legal Educational Publishing

Hackers Beware of Golf Shots Which Could
Give Rise to Negligence Claims
Description Landowner adjacent to golf course sues country club on nuisance, assault and battery and negligence claims when hit by errant golf ball; Supreme Court of Rhode Island reverses summary judgement for defendant in part and affirms only negligence claim.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence, Warning; Assumption of Risk
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Hennessey lived in a condo next to a crook in a dogleg on the 11th hole of a golf course. Her back yard began 14 feet from the out-of-bounds marker on the fairway. She claimed her condo was hit an average of ten times a day for the five years prior to her being hit on the side of the head one morning when she was looking at flowers in her front yard. Pyne, the golfer who hit her, was the assistant pro at the course. He did not yell at her because he did not see her. Hennessey sued for assault and battery, nuisance, and negligence. Pyne replied that he was dubious that his ball hit her; he was sure it hit the side of the building, and he asserted that she assumed the risk of injury by living where she did. Summary judgment for Pyne (and the country club). Pyne was involved in a lawful and intended use of the golf course. Hennessey appealed.
Decision Affirmed in part; reversed in part. There was no nuisance. That "arises from the unreasonable use of one's property that materially interferes with a neighbor's physical comfort or ... use of ... real estate." This was not an unreasonable use of the property in question. There was no assault or battery. "Hennessey was not even aware of Pyne's presence on the tee, much less did she apprehend any injury from the errant golf ball that struck her. Thus, a claim for assault will not lie in these circumstances." Hennessey did not intend to cause "an offensive contact with or unconsented touching of or trauma upon" Hennessey, so no battery. The negligence claim stands. It "could encompass three discrete theories :
  1. that Pyne had hit his eleventh-hole tee shot in a negligent manner,
  2. that he had failed to five an adequate warning before teeing off, and/or
  3. that he had failed to give an adequate warning after having struck the ball and observed where it was going."
Golfers have "a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of those people who may be located" along the course. "Thus ... it is a jury question whether Pyne knew or should have known that Hennessey was potentially in the foreseeable zone of danger and ... [should] have taken reasonable steps to avoid or lessen that danger." Given where the shot was going, "Pyne may have had a duty to shout a warning." The question "of whether Hennessey voluntarily assumed the risk of injury when she tarried to flower gaze in her own garden upon returning from church on a summer Sunday morning is a factual question to be resolved by the jury."
Citation Hennessey v. Pyne, 694 A.2d 691 (Sup. Ct., R.I., 1997)

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