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Vol. 7 - Issue 8
November 7, 2018


Ryder Cup Fan Injury: Commenting To Golf.com On My Favorite Tort Case


I have long had a fascination with courts’ handling of claims, brought by fans, who were injured by a foul ball while a spectator at a baseball game – and sometimes the ball gets into the stands by some other means. I have studied the issue fairly extensively and written on it several times. My interest in the baseball area has led me to also examine the legal issues surrounding fans insured by wayward golf balls, soccer balls and mascot-tossed hotdogs.

A few weeks back a fan was serious injured (reportedly blinded in one eye) at the Ryder Cup, in Paris, when she was struck by a tee shot hit, on a par four, by U.S. golfer Brooks Koepka. It’s an awful situation. Koepka, who has no fault here, was nonetheless devastated. The fan has vowed to take legal action.

I have no idea how such a claim would be treated under French law. Golf.com decided to look into how it may be handled under U.S. law. I was really flattered when they reached out to me for my thoughts on the subject.


With the caveat that tort law is extremely state specific, and facts matter a lot, my take on the Ryder Cup situation, based on the limited case law on the subject, is this. When it comes to fans injured by objects the leave the field of play, courts often turn to baseball cases for guidance. This is where the vast majority of the law – the cases are legion -- has been made.

The majority of courts that have confronted the question have adopted the so-called “Baseball Rule,” which limits the duty owed by baseball stadium operators to spectators injured by foul balls. The Baseball Rule generally provides that a baseball stadium operator is not liable for a foul ball injury as long as it screens the most dangerous part of the stadium and provides screened seats to as many spectators as may reasonably be expected to request them.

I believe that a court, analyzing liability for the injury at the Ryder Cup, would analogize it to the Baseball Rule. True, there was no screening in place where the fan -- standing in a dangerous location for a wayward tee shot on a par four -- was struck by the ball. However, unlike baseball, fans at golf tournaments stand on the course. This is unusual, but inherent to watching a golf tournament. There are not many other sports where the fans stand, in-bounds, on the field of play.

Given this, my take is that a court would absolve a golf tournament operator from liability so long as there are enough places on the course to watch the action (I know, not everyone would use that word when describing golf) where the risk of injury is minimal. In other words, the court would treat the availability of places on the course, to safely watch the play, as the baseball equivalent of making available screened-in areas in a stadium.

For example, it is safe to take in a golf tournament from behind a tee. It is also much safer to watch golf while sitting in the grandstand or standing at a green. Balls hit into the green usually do so at a high trajectory. And unlike a tee shot, approach shots to a green travel with less velocity and it is easier for a fan to see an errant shot coming his or her way. By offering fans these opportunities for safe viewing, I believe that a court would free a tournament operator from liability, for injury to a spectator, who chooses to stand where a wayward par four tee shot can go.

Having said this, I believe that an exception could also exist. In Duffy v. Midlothian Country Club, a 1985 decision from an Illinois appellate court, the court held that a tournament operator was liable, for serious injury to a fan (also blinded), when she was struck by a tee shot. The injury took place while the spectator was at a concession stand set up between the first and eighteenth fairways. However, here, the court seemed to be heavily influenced by expert testimony that “concession stands were placed in areas in which balls had regularly landed in the past, and that the fairways were so close together that the spectators located between the fairways are within range of balls likely to be hit by golfers. [And] spectators would not be able to see the player hitting the ball as the shrubbery and hills interfered with visibility.”

The situation in Duffy v. Midlothian Country Club, where there was this kind of evidence, about the hazards of the specific location of the fan, seems like an exceptional scenario.


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