Florida Golf Clubs Liable for Stray Balls
Have you ever driven past a golf course and wondered who’s responsible when golf balls stray from their intended path? There are many golf courses in the state of Florida, most of which are next to public streets and sidewalks. A recent Circuit Court appellate court decision over a small claims court case illustrates who is responsible for what when operating a golf course in Florida.
In the opinion of City of St. Petersburg vs. Brenda Gordon, a Pinellas County Circuit Court appellate decision upheld a county court judge’s decision finding liability on the part of the city golf course. The opinion addresses a claim by the City of St. Petersburg that it enjoyed sovereign immunity under Florida statute 768.28. How this argument could have been made with a straight face is beyond me, as government agencies that operate golf courses are clearly just as responsible for what happens on their property as a regular golf course would be.
In this case, a neighbor of the city-owned golf course got tired of stray balls hitting her house and car. She had complained multiple times and was finally fed up with the lack of interest in her complaints. She filed a small claims court lawsuit alleging negligent use, maintenance and operation of the golf practice area, where the errant golf balls were launched from. The city’s attorneys appeared to have been completely unfamiliar with the seminal case of Trianon Park Condominium Assoc. vs. Hialeah, a 1985 Supreme Court of Florida opinion that set the standard for government liability. This opinion has been cited numerous times in addressing the duty government agencies have when operating what could be described as commercial activities. In fact, under the case of Florida DNR vs. Garcia, a government entity operating a swimming pool facility assumed the same common law duty to operate the facility just as a private individual or corporation would be obligated under like circumstances.
When faced with this opinion, it is no surprise that the county court judge admirably ruled in favor of the homeowner who was tired of golf balls damaging her home and vehicles. The net effect of this decision is that the City of St. Petersburg was correctly held responsible for operating a driving range in a dangerous fashion, and the homeowner was deemed entitled to her damages.