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Semi-private golf club is not liable for negligent maintenance of golf-course - Jury finds that plaintiff golfer had a duty to exercise due care while driving a golf cart.

Atlantic County

In this action, the male plaintiff contended that the defendant maintained its golf course in a negligent manner. The plaintiff, maintained that he rode his golf cart off the cart path into what should have been a cordoned off area, but that a section of rope, which ran through wooden stakes in the ground, was laying on the ground. The plaintiff maintained that as he drove over the rope, the golf cart wheels caused one of the wooden stakes to fly up and hit him in the head. The plaintiff claimed that he suffered a subdural hematoma and was knocked unconscious.

The accident occurred late in the afternoon as the plaintiff and a friend were playing a round of golf at Mays Landing Country Club. The plaintiff contended that he drove the golf cart towards his ball on the green directly through a cordoned off area since the section of rope used to cordon off the area was laying on the ground and thus, was not visible. The plaintiff’s friend who he was playing with testified that he did not see what occurred because he was looking in a different direction, but concurred that the rope was lying on the ground.

Although a medical report prepared by the plaintiff’s treating p 7 3 physician prior to trial confirmed the plaintiff’s position that he suffered a hematoma, which was also confirmed by CT scan and x-ray, no medical expert testimony was offered at trial. In addition, the plaintiff’s allegations of residual headaches and memory loss were not supported by expert testimony at the time of trial. On the first day of trial, plaintiff’s counsel stated that the reason that no expert testimony was being offered was that the plaintiff could not afford to pay for the expert.

The defendant denied negligence. The country club maintained that the area through which the plaintiff drove was, in fact, cordoned off, and speculated that the plaintiff drove through the section of rope which it was still hanging from the wooden stakes. The defendant contended that it was the force of the impact of the cart against the rope which caused the wooden stake to snap in half and fly back and strike the plaintiff in the head.

The defendant made a motion to dismiss based upon the plaintiff’s failure to produce a liability expert. The defense also made a motion to dismiss the issues of pain and suffering, also based on the absence of expert testimony. The court denied both motions.

However, regarding the plaintiff’s injury, the judge allowed testimony regarding pain and suffering only and prohibited testimony about the actual injury sustained. Despite the court’s ruling, and over defense counsel’s objection, the plaintiff did testify about the injury he sustained.

The defendant presented testimony from the golf course maintenance superintendent who testified that numerous inspections of the golf course were conducted throughout the course of the day that the plaintiff played golf with his friend.

The superintendent also testified that the last inspection occurred around 2 and 3:00 p.m. and that no damaged rope or wooden stakes were observed. In addition, the defense produced photographs taken by the superintendent on the morning following the accident. The photographs showed only one set of tire tracks impressed in the grass where the accident occurred, which defused the argument that the plaintiff attempted to make that some other golfer had come into the area and broke through the rope before he came along. The defense did not offer any expert testimony.

The jury took just 20 minutes to deliberate and return a verdict of no cause for action.

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