I’ve been reading the Reader’s Digest again. This time it’s a story about golfers and a lawsuit against a country club. The names don’t matter. The place doesn’t matter. The story does.
Four friends were rabid golfers (no, not literally rabid) and prided themselves on golfing together no matter what the weather – rain, sun, snow, whatever. This incident occurred on a day when rain or snow were predicted in March. They got to the country club for a 7 AM tee time. It was just drizzling at the time. The club’s management had checked the National Weather Service forecast before sending them out. They got the okay to set out. No alerts or warnings of lightning from the weather service.
As they played, the rain got heavier and heavier, until after several holes, it was a downpour. Then the rain subsided and they continued. After hitting their drives, they noticed a lightning bolt in the distance and decided to go back to the clubhouse. They walked in pairs and one pair decided to put up their umbrellas. Suddenly the pair with the umbrellas up were struck by lightning. Both were injured, one more seriously than the other.
The management of the club had been continuously monitoring the weather. They had seen the bolt, which had been about 15 miles away, at the same time the golfers did and sent out a staff member in a cart to tell everyone to get off the course and seek shelter immediately. They had signs posted all over the course telling golfers to seek shelter if they saw lightning. These golfers played frequently. They weren’t newbies!
After a lengthy recovery and lucky to be alive, the seriously injured golfer decided to sue the country club for not warning him and informing him properly.
Any adult that lives in this country should be aware of basic lightning safety. If that adult is a golfer, he should be doubly aware. Any child knows that you don’t go walking across an open field in the middle of a lightning storm! You get as low and flat as possible. You may be wet but you won’t be fried. This guy chose to be a human lightning rod – even put up a nice, big golf umbrella with a metal handle (“good choice”) to increase his odds of being hit.
In the lawsuit, he claimed they should have had a siren and more signs. Would that have changed his behavior in any way? Would that have made him choose to get wet instead of putting up that umbrella? I doubt it!
Anyway, the trial court ruled that the club didn’t have a legal duty to protect golfers against “acts of God” and was not liable for the man’s injuries. The judge noted the same things I have – he could have sought shelter or lain down. Of course the golfer, not satisfied with the decision of this judge, appealed to a higher court. Predictable.
The Superior Court judge decided that just because the injuries were due to an “act of God”, it did not exempt the club from liability. The club had to take steps to protect golfers and implement them properly. He added that a jury should decide whether the club fulfilled that obligation. So is he saying that the club is to blame for the golfer’s poor judgement?!
There’s that word blame again. Here’s another person who cannot take personal responsibility for his own actions. It’s their fault there was no siren or sign or other thing that persuaded him to do what he should – get off the course as quickly and safely as possible.
The club’s insurance carrier decided to pay a settlement rather than go to trial. Having worked in the insurance industry, believe me when I tell you that was a financial decision rather than an agreement that the insured club had been wrong. It costs a lot of money to go to trial – lawyers and experts to be paid, at the very least. Many times, rather than toss the dice with a jury, an insurance company will decide to take the path of least resistance and offer a small settlement to get rid of a suit. It usually works because most of the time, people really are looking for the money and not their day in court. Big surprise! I know, my cynicism is showing.
I guess the moral of this story is that, should you choose to become a human lightning rod and put up an umbrella with a metal handle in the middle of a wide, open space, make sure that space is a golf course. That way you can blame someone else for your poor choice!!