Robert Howe, 51, was playing golf at Mainland Golf Course in Harleysville when he fractured his ankle when he slipped and fell while walking back to his cart. He was walking on a small path next to the ball washing unit on the ninth hole when his right foot became unstable on “drop-off” that was approximately six inches. He pursued a personal injury claim against Mainland Golf Course Holding Co. Inc. citing negligence in allowing for a dangerous condition to exist on the property.
Howe regularly went golfing and had been to Mainland once before. One of his expert witnesses, a civil engineer, testified that the six-inch drop-off was not open and obvious from the way that Howe was walking. Further, he testified that this hazardous condition was a landscaping problem that should have been addressed. Defense counsel alleged that Howe was comparatively negligent in the incident based on his failure to use the path as intended. An expert defense witness explained that the area was designed in a manner that is typical for golf courses.
Howe's foot problems persisted much longer than expected. After initially being diagnosed with a right lateral malleolus fracture (ankle fracture) a cast was placed on the foot and he was told to stay off of his feet for a few weeks. He participated in roughly five weeks of physical therapy and had the cast removed. Shortly after, he developed inflammation in the region and began seeing a podiatrist. His podiatrist felt the ligament damage needed surgical repair and that the injury was permanent.
Claim for Damages After Pennsylvania Golf Course Injury
Howe's claim sought damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and others. A jury determined that Mainland was 25% liable for the accident and that Howe was 75% negligent. In Pennsylvania, the plaintiff is barred from recovery if they are found to have been greater than 50% liable, thus the defense prevailed.
In looking at this case of premises liability it is first important to confirm Howe's status on the property when the injury occurred. He would classify as an invitee, like a customer in a retail store would be. Those who own or control property have a duty to maintain reasonably safe conditions for invitees. If the owner is aware of a potentially dangerous condition, they have a duty to warn the invitee of it. One key question to consider is whether those participating in golf are taking an inherent risk when playing the game.
Past case history has shown that the assumption of risk doctrine in a golf course setting is most common in situations where a golfer is injured by a flying golf ball. It may have had an influence on the jury in this case as well. Golf courses are designed to have many variables that can make them more challenging for players. There are natural and man-made obstacles such as sand traps, water hazards, abrupt changes in slope, significant variations in the length of the grass, etc.
When viewed in this light, it would seem that a golfer, particularly one like the plaintiff in this case (who plays regularly) to be cautious when walking out on the course.