California Court Upholds Judgment in Favor of Golf Club Owner for Plaintiff’s Injuries from Stray Golf Ball while on Adjacent Trail

The California Court of Appeal recently issued an unpublished opinion affirming the lower court’s judgment in favor of the owner and operator of a golf club after an individual walking near the club suffered injuries from a stray ball.  The court assessed whether summary judgment was proper based on the tort immunity provided by the Government Code.  Central to the appellate court’s decision was the holding that the trail’s location next to the golf course was an integral feature of the trail.

The owner of the club granted San Diego County public easements for unpaved trails that run along the golf course.  There was a chain link fence and a line of trees separating the trail from the gold course, but there were no warning signs indicating that golf is played on the course. While the plaintiffs, a husband and wife, were walking on the trail near the 13th hole, a stray golf ball struck the husband in the eye.  His injury  led to a loss of 80 percent of his vision in his left eye, and he has a permanent sunken left orbital wall. The club owner stated that the fence is not a barrier but a property line.  Before this incident, the club had not received reports of others being hit by stray balls on the trail near the 13th hole.

The plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against the club owner for negligence, unsafe condition of property, failure to warn, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and other claims. The owner moved for summary judgment on the grounds that he was entitled to trail immunity as well as recreational use immunity, both under Government Code Civil Sections 831.4 and 846. The lower court granted summary judgment in his favor, based on trail immunity.

The plaintiffs argued that the club owner’s failure to erect proper safety barriers on the 13th hole of the golf course caused their injury because balls could fly into the trail.

The court stated that section 831.4 provides immunity to those who grant a public easement to a public entity.  Here, the defendant club owner granted a public easement to San Diego for a recreational purpose. Accordingly, the court held that he is entitled to the protections set forth in the trail immunity statute.

Turning to case law, the court stated the rule that trail immunity extends to the location and design of a trail. Here, the court stated that the plaintiffs incorrectly argued the location of the trail near the golf course was unrelated to the plaintiff’s injuries.  But the court made clear that if the plaintiff had not been on a trail next to the golf course, he would not have been struck. Therefore, the location of the trail next to the golf course was an integral feature of the trail.

In conclusion, since the club owner granted the public easement to a public entity (San Diego), he is absolutely immune from liability under section 831.4 for injuries caused by the trail, including those injuries that arise from the trail’s location and design.  The appellate court stated the lower court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the club owner.  The plaintiffs’ complaint was barred by the trail immunity set forth in section 831.4.

The judgment was affirmed in favor of the club owner.

At Sharifi Firm, our Los Angeles premises liability lawyers help accident victims seek compensation from the individual or entity responsible for their harm.  Negligent individuals can be held accountable for conduct that harms others.  Our office is prepared to investigate, negotiate, and if necessary, litigate on your behalf. Contact us for a free consultation by calling 1-866-422-7222 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds in Favor of City of Los Angeles Because Plaintiff Had Not Shown City Knew of Allegedly Defective Sidewalk that Caused Injuries, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 5, 2017

California Court Upholds Judgment in Favor of Regents of California Because Trial Court did not Improperly Instruct Jury Concerning the Kind of Injury That Plaintiff Suffered, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 11, 2016

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