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COA says golf cart use is par for the course during the game

November 15, 2016

A man’s negligence claim against a golf teammate who struck the back of his golf cart cannot succeed because driving a golf cart is normal behavior for participants in the sport.

That was the decision of the Indiana Court of Appeals in the case of David D. Wooten v. Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC and Bernard J. Chamernik, 31A04-1605-CT-1037. David Wooten and Bernard Chamernik were each invited to participate in a golf tournament sponsored by the Caesars Riverboat Casino at its golf course, Chariot Run Golf Course, in August 2012. The two men played together on the same team of four.

During the tournament, teams were allowed to drive the golf carts on the fairway. James Malles, another teammate, was driving a golf cart with Wooten as the passenger, and Chamernik was following behind. At one point, Malles stopped the golf cart on the downward slope of a hill, and as Wooten was “leaning up to get out of the cart,” Chamernik hit them from behind at a low rate of speed, throwing Wooten backwards but not out of the cart.

After the collision, Wooten complained that his neck had snapped backward and had begun to bother him and that his ears were ringing. He took over-the-counter pain reliever and continued playing, but when he informed the course attendants about the accident, EMTs were called and Wooten was diagnosed with whiplash. He was cleared to finish the game, but he checked himself into the hospital a few days later and was diagnosed with a neck sprain and strain.

More than a year later, Wooten filed a negligence claim against Caesars, Chamernik and Malles. Malles was dismissed from the complaint, Wooten settled with Caesars and the Harrison Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Chamernik in April 2015.

Wooten appealed, asserting that the designated evidence established that Chamernik’s action was outside the range of ordinary behavior of participants in golf. Specifically, Wooten said that because “golf carts are not necessary for playing the game of golf, it cannot be said that golf-cart activities are ordinary behavior or are an inherent risk in the game of golf.”

But the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed with that argument, writing Tuesday that “the use of golf courts in golf outings has become ubiquitous and a rather mundane occurrence on the fairway because walking ‘would just slow things up.’”

The appellate court pointed to Chamernik’s testimony in which he said he was looking to find his shot while he was driving the golf cart and that it is not “unusual for a golfer to look for the ball from the cart.” Malles offered similar testimony. Further, the court said Wooten himself testified that he had been at other golf courses where golf carts have bumped into each other.

Based on the precedent set by the Indiana Supreme Court in Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), which found that negligence claims against participants in sports activities can only be supported if the participant’s conduct is outside the range of ordinary behavior in the sport, the Court of Appeals ruled that Wooten’s negligence claim cannot succeed.

“Even though incidents of this sort might be actionable during non-golf related activities, this conduct … has now become ‘within the range of ordinary behavior of participants’ in golf and, therefore, as a matter of law, it cannot support a claim for negligence,” the appellate court wrote.

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