Sports Law • Risk Management

The Sports Exceptions Doctrine’s Applicability to Golf

Golf tournament organizers, golf course owners and managers and anyone walking on or near a golf course must be concerned about the hazards of errant golf balls striking and injuring people. In Mallin v. Paesani , 49 Conn. Supp. 457, 892 A.2d 1043 (2005), both Mallin and Paesani were competitors in a PGA tournament. Mallin alleged that Paesani drove a golf ball, striking the plaintiff in the head and causing injury. The plaintiff brought an apportionment action against Tashima knolls Golf Course and the town of Trumbull, claiming their negligence in possession and control of the golf tournament was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The issue in this case was whether the sports-exception doctrine states that mere negligence is not enough to establish liability; there has to be an allegation of intentional conduct or recklessness. The court discussed whether the sports-exception doctrine applies only to contact team sports or whether it is applicable to individual and non contact sports. Citing a case involving skiing, the court concluded that the sports-exception doctrine was not applicable to golf, and so the plaintiff could maintain its action against defendants Tashua Knolls Golf Course and the town of Trumbull on a negligence theory.

It should be kept in mind that this case was decided in Connecticut and does not serve as precedent in other jurisdictions. The same facts adjudicated in other states may have resulted in a dismissal. Nevertheless, golfers should exercise care to warn others of golf balls flying their way and should make sure that they not proceed with their swing until other golfers are a reasonable distance away.