A golf club may be liable for a near-fatal wasp attack suffered by a patron in California, where an appellate court reversed a summary judgment in the golf club’s favor.
Although this is an out-of-state case, it’s an important read given that Florida has more golf courses than any other state (with Palm Beach County having more than any other county in the country). As a business, golf courses that invite patrons onto their property for the financial gain of the course owe the highest duty of care to those patrons, meaning they have a responsibility to regularly check for potential hazards and to either mitigate or warn of those about which they know or should know.
Here, the California First Appellate District, Division One, held that operators of golf courses must maintain their property in reasonably safe condition, which includes the duty to exercise reasonable care to shield guests from yellow jacket nests on their site. The measures a golf course operator is required to take may vary, so the court didn’t reach the issue of whether defendant golf course in this case breached that duty or caused patron’s injuries (those would be questions of fact for a jury, rather than a judge, to decide). Nonetheless, the case should move forward, as the course was not entitled to summary judgment before the trial even started.
According to court records, plaintiff was a patron of the golf course receiving lessons from an instructor when a swarm of yellow jackets from an undiscovered nest attacked. The pair ran some 150 yards to the instructor’s car, at which point he swarm stopped chasing, but plaintiff suffered 50 bites. Her instructor drove her to a nearby fire station, where a paramedic later testified she was within “15 seconds of dying.” She was given a shot to revive her and then transported to the nearest hospital, where she was treated in the intensive care unit (ICU). She survived, but missed five weeks of work and now is highly allergic to yellow jacket stings, and must carry emergency medicine with her wherever she goes.
The golf course did not have a policy to check for pests, aside from cockroaches, rodents and ants. The course operator and owner testified they had noticed a stray yellow jacked here and there, but it was undisputed by plaintiff that the course lacked any actual knowledge of a nest on the site. In Florida (as in California) a business can be found liable for either actual or constructive knowledge of a hazard such as stinging insects. The golf course manager testified no one had ever been stung there, nor did they set traps or warn patrons about it, as they did not see it as a problem.
The trial court found the golf course had no duty to act because there was no evidence it had knowledge of the dangerous condition. However, in its reversal, the appellate court held it was reasonably foreseeable that such a condition would arise. An expert witness testified that yellow jackets are prevalent throughout that region of California, and also that it’s well-known that this particular species aggressively protects their nests. The fact that such nests had been discovered on other golf courses and that the golf course manager testified about having seen them on site was reason enough to find the condition was foreseeable. The fact that no such incident happened before does not mean the club could not reasonably anticipate it would occur.
Our Orlando golf course injury attorneys and West Palm Beach golf course injury attorneys can assist those who have been injured on site at a golf club determine whether they have grounds to seek monetary compensation a Florida personal injury lawsuit.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC., Attorneys at Law, by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Staats v. Vintner’s Golf Club, LLC, Aug. 1, 2018, California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division One
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