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Failure to Yell? New York's High Court Dismisses Golfer's Case

What could be more of a cliché than two doctors playing golf? How about them suing each other when one struck the other with an errant shot? This is the drama that recently played out in New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Apparently our two medical practitioners were members of a foursome and out for some friendly competition on a Long Island golf course. They teed off on the first hole without incident; however, one doctor's second shot found the rough. While three of the group remained in the fairway, one trudged off to play a recovery shot. It is reported that the third shot veered right (the dreaded slice?) and struck our second doctor in the head. He claimed to have sustained a detached retina and a permanent loss of vision, which "extraordinarily limited" his practice (assumedly medical practice, not golf).

At issue was whether the doctor with the errant shot called "fore." This is a traditional warning shouted to other golfers that your shot is headed for them. The plaintiff claimed that the warning was not provided, while the defendant claimed that he did provide the warning, but it was not heard.

The trial court dismissed the case and ruled that getting hit by a golf ball is, unfortunately, an inherent risk of golfing that one assumes when lacing up the golf shoes and heading for the first tee. An appellate court then reviewed the case and found that even if the defendant failed to give a warning, he had no duty to do so because the plaintiff "was at so great an angle away from the defendant and the intended line of flight that he was not in the foreseeable danger zone." So if you hit a really bad shot, apparently you do not have to warn anyone.

On final appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled that poorly directed shots are "a commonly appreciated risk" of golf and that anyone who plays the game consents to the risk of being subjected to them. The defendant's failure to warn of his intent to strike the ball was neither reckless nor intentional and did not unreasonably increase the risks of golf to which the plaintiff assented.

If you are playing golf in New York, not only watch the groups ahead of and behind you, but keep a close watch on your playing partners as well.