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The petitioner in American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court (2000) was golfer Albert Becker. When a misfired bullet struck Becker in the eye and bounced off a wooden yardage sign, Becker was seriously hurt. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against American Golf Corporation, alleging that the golf course was built carelessly. Becker allegedly accepted the risk, but the American Golf Corporation denied liability and filed for summary judgment. (Cochran 125).
On appeal, the California Court of Appeal overturned the trial court's decision and granted the petition, which had been denied by the trial court. Golf is one of the active sports that the assumption of the risk doctrine is relevant to, according to the court of appeals. The court stated that hitting a golf ball at high speed presents the possibility that the ball will move in an unintended direction. Furthermore, the appellate court stated that there would be little “sport” in golf if every ball behaved as the golfer wishes. All professionals and golfers assume the risk that shots go stray when they play. Moreover, errant golf shots may strike an object such as a fence, tree, or a rock and may hit another player.
In November 1997, Albert Becker was playing golf with Stan Christopherson at the American Golf Corporation Country Club. Both players moved to the point where Stan’s ball was located approximately 210 yards from the hole. Becker was seated on the golf cart that was 10 yards behind Stan’s golf ball. When Stan hit the ball to the left, it ricocheted off the yardage marker and stroked Becker in the eye (Cochran 125).
In an active sports setting, the issue of the defendant owing a duty to the plaintiff depends on the responsibilities of both parties to the sport, and it is a legal question that should be decided by the court. The defendant has no duty to protect the plaintiff against the risks inherent in a sport, but the defendant has a duty not to add more risk in the activity past the risks present in the sport. Thus, it is the responsibility of the court to determine whether the activity in question is an active sport, the related risks of the sport and if the defendant has increased risks past the risks associated with the sport.
The defendant has to provide a reasonably safe golf course to the plaintiff. The defendant must reduce the risks of the activity without changing the nature of the sport. Therefore, the owner of the golf course is obliged to design and maintain the golf course to reduce the risk of hitting players by the golf ball. For instance, the manner in which fairways and trees are aligned or separated. Becker contends that the alignment of the golf course increased the risk of him being hit by the errant shot. The plaintiff argues that the case falls below the secondary assumption of the risk doctrine. This argument makes Becker to be entitled to a jury trial on the comparative fault issue.
The trial court declined its motion, but on appeal, the California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and granted the motion. The court of appeal held that golf is among the active sports to which the assumption of the risk doctrine is applicable.
American Golf Corp. v. Superior Court, 93 Cal. Rptr. 2d 683 - Cal: Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate Dist., 5th Div. 2000
Cochran, Nicholas J. "Fore-American Golf Corporation v. Superior Court: The Continued Uneven Application of California's Flawed Doctrine of Assumption of Risk." (2001): 125.
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