Not all motor vehicle accidents involve automobiles on the highway. People can suffer serious injuries in all types of vehicles, including golf carts, but different standards of liability may apply to such vehicles depending on where and when an accident occurs.
Here is a recent example. A woman employed by a New York nonprofit organization was assigned to work at a charity golf tournament. A golf cart transported her from the clubhouse to her assigned hole. The golf cart driver, a 17-year-old affiliated with the nonprofit, made what the woman described as a “sharp left turn” into the golf course's parking lot at “full speed,” throwing her from the vehicle.
The woman eventually sued the driver for negligence, as well as the owner and manager of the golf course. In March of 2014, Manhattan Supreme Court granted summary judgment to all three defendants. In separate appeals, the Appellate Division, First Department, reversed summary judgment as to the course owner and manager, but affirmed it with respect to the driver.
The case against the course owner and manager turned on its alleged negligence in maintaining the golf course path where the accident took place. The plaintiff offered an expert witness who said there was a “dangerous steep slope” on the cart path, and at a minimum course management should have posted warning signs. TheFirst Department noted in response to this claim, the defendants failed to offer sufficient evidence “that they regularly inspected the accident location, that they received no complaints prior to the incident regarding the complained-of conditions, and that they had no similar accidents at the subject location.” The plaintiff could therefore pursue her premises liability claim against both defendants.
One judge dissented from the majority's decision, arguing the available testimony proved “the accident was caused by [the driver's] operation of the golf cart and not by any act or omission on the part of” the course defendants. But as it turned out, the driver was the only defendant dismissed from the case outright. In itssecond opinion, the First Department held the driver was entitled to summary judgment under the “assumption of risk” doctrine. This doctrine applies whenever a person participates in a “sporting or recreational event.” Such participants are deemed “to have consented to those commonly-appreciated risks that are inherent in, and arise out of, participation in the sport.”
In this case, since the woman was participating in a golf event—albeit as an employee, not a golfer—she assumed all the normal risks of such participation, including riding in the golf cart. Citing an earlier decision from one of its sister courts, the First Department noted, “[G]olfers .... must be held to a common appreciation of the fact that there is a risk of injury from improperly used carts on a fairway which is inherent in and aris[es] out of the nature of the sport generally and flow[s] from participation in it.” The fact the driver was underage and operating the cart recklessly did not override the plaintiff's legal assumption of risk.Cases like this illustrate how personal injury cases often turn on very fine points of law. This is why if you have suffered a serious injury as the result of someone else's negligence, it is important you work with an experienced New York accident attorney. Contact our offices today if you need to speak with someone right away.