Sports Law • Risk Management

Golf Course Planning and Warning About Inclement Weather

Since golf is played outdoors, it is constantly subjected to weather conditions. One of the most dangerous conditions is that of lightning. In Sall v. T’s, Inc., 136 P.3d 471 (Kan. 2006), Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant T’s, Inc.,dba Smiley’s Golf Course, as a result of injuries that he sustained when he was struck by lightning while golfing at Defendant’s course.

At noon on the day of the incident, the manager of the golf course saw the television weather forecast, predicting storms. The manager continued to check the weather by walking outside every 10 to 15 minutes in accordance with the golf course policy. At one point, he observed dark clouds and so he closed the complex. In the afternoon, the next manager came on duty, noticing that the skies were clearing. Computer radar images also confirmed that storms were moving out of the area. When the sun came out, the golf course was re-opened. Plaintiff decided to golf, believing that the golf course would not be open if it was not safe. As Plaintiff and his friend were golfing, it started to rain. They anticipated that the golf course would blow an air horn if dangerous weather was moving in. They saw a lightning bolt in the distance while putting on the second green. The twosome decided to finish the second hole and then begin walking back to the clubhouse. Meanwhile the golf course manager blew the air horn. As the Plaintiff was walking back, he saw a flash, heard a loud boom and was knocked unconscious.

In the course of the lawsuit, the court addressed whether the Smiley’s has a duty to protect golfers from harm caused by lightning strikes on its golf course. The evidence established that the Defendant did the following to protect their patrons from inclement weather: 1) Monitor weather through broadcasts on television, radio and Internet reports; 2) Going outside and visually inspecting the weather; 3) warning golfers by use of an air horn to come off the golf course in poor weather conditions; and 4) informing golfers with signage about what they should do in case of inclement weather.

The court concluded that the golf course that had undertaken to use a safety system for inclement weather had a duty of reasonable care to use it correctly. In this case, the golf course did not have a play at your own risk policy that was communicated to the golfers. The Plaintiff was aware that the golf course was monitoring the weather and would issue warnings and so he relied on the fact that the golf course would be doing this properly. The appellate court determined that there were issues of fact as to whether the golf course was negligent in its warning of the Plaintiff and so the case was directed to proceed to trial.
Whether you own a golf course, run a charity golf tournament, or work at a golf course, it is important to make sure that there is a plan for inclement weather, especially lightning.