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Golf spectator is injured at the Ryder Cup, but what are the legal implications?

2 October 2018

Sustaining a life changing injury through the loss of sight in an eye is not what one spectator was expecting when attending the Ryder Cup in Paris over the weekend. She was stood in heavy rough, beyond the safety ropes in a designated spectating area. However, does that mean that she should be compensated for her injury and any associated losses?

Firstly, one needs to ask whether she consented to the risks of being struck, by attending a golf competition where balls can be wayward off the tee, particularly from this American Ryder Cup team! Her admission ticket may even contain a clause that specifically addresses this risk of injury by viewing matches adjacent to the course.

The golfer, Brooks Koepke acknowledged that stray balls can make contact with spectators who are near the course, and seeking a good view of the action. But does that make him negligent and legally liable where the course has been set up and managed for him and he has no control over the positioning of spectators? Even Pro golfers struggle to keep the ball on the fairway at times, but on Day 1 of the Ryder Cup the pressure would be immense. The ball landed just inside the spectator area, which was not dramatically off line, and he describes calling ‘fore’ after hitting his stroke. It is difficult to see what else he could do, other than feel incredibly sorry for her injuries as he acknowledged afterwards.

Those managing the course set up and marshals may have more of a role to play in resolving her claim. They control the spectator areas, and have ball spotters at key points on the course, closely monitoring the signs from the tee boxes as to the approaching direction of the ball. Whether a warning was given near to this spectator, or whether it could be heard is yet to be determined. Having watched nearly all of the action, the course design was a ‘spectators dream’, placing their guests in elevated viewing positions and creating an amphitheatre way beyond any previous Ryder Cup. A balance needs to be struck between providing a viewing spectacle, and managing risk. Whilst spectators can often be struck by a ball moving at a significant speed, injuries are not that common, and when they occur they are not often as significant as this.

It is incredibly unfortunate that someone may have lost their sight at such a magnificent event, but that does not automatically mean that compensation is the answer. Medical bills may have been incurred, and permanent symptoms may remain. The best all round result may well be a form of mediation to embrace the poor spectator out of moral duty, rather than resulting from a legal liability. I’m not sure that free tickets to the return event in the USA is the answer!

From a risk management perspective, event organisers will be looking closely at their risk assessments, spectator management plans and the instructions and training provided to their stewards to mitigate a future repeat occurrence.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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