A recent decision by a California appellate court has held that a golf course does owe a duty to use reasonable care to those playing golf to protect them from wasp nests on site. Such cases fall under the umbrella of premises liability, and pertain to the expectation that those who welcome guests onto their property have a responsibility to make sure they are reasonably safe, and that they are warned about dangerous conditions about which the owner/ manager knows or should know.
As our Orlando injury lawyers have seen, golf course injuries usually tend to involve golf cart accidents, fast-flying rogue golf balls and trip-and-fall or slip-and-fall hazards. However, here in Florida, we also have amazing – but potentially very dangerous – wildlife patrons may encounter on golf courses. These include alligators (the most common large animal on Florida greens, as noted by The Guardian), pythons, bears, bobcats and of course stinging or biting insects like bees, wasps and red ants.
In terms of liability, Florida golf course owners have a responsibility to take measures to protect their guests by addressing these issues or posting adequate warning so guests can be alert and use appropriate caution.
In the case before the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division One, Staats v. Vinter’s Golf Club, LLC, the plaintiff nearly died after she was attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets while playing golf on defendant’s course. She filed a personal injury lawsuit against the business for both negligence and premises liability. However, the trial court granted the defendant summary judgment before trial, ruling the golf course had no responsibility to protect its paying customers from an undiscovered stinging insect nest on site. The appellate court disagreed and reversed, remanding the case back to trial. The issue of whether the golf course breached this duty remains a question of fact for the lower court to decide.
According to court records, the incident occurred near the fifth hole as plaintiff prepared to take a shot. She screamed as she and her instructor (she was taking a lesson) tried to swat the swarm away. They ran some 150 yards until the swarm stopped following, and the woman lost consciousness after climbing into her instructor’s car. He raced her to a nearby fire station, where she was given a shot and then transported by ambulance to a hospital. A first responder paramedic said plaintiff was within “15 seconds” of dying when she arrived at the station.
Doctors noted she had more than 50 stings all over her body. She was hospitalized in the intensive care unit for the night and ultimately lost five weeks of work. Further, the attack left her hyper-allergic to wasp stings, and she must get three monthly injections and carry multiple epinephrine pens with her at all times.
At the time of the attack, the golf club lacked any written policy on inspection of the site for pests or dangerous conditions. It did contract with a pest control company, which performed an inspection each month, but those efforts were primarily focused on insects like cockroaches and ants. The director and superintendent testified they had seen stray bees and yellow jackets, but had know knowledge of any hive, nest or swarm on site (though plaintiff does not dispute the business had know “actual” knowledge of a swarm or prior stings). There were no traps or other controls because the club didn’t believe it to be an issue.
The manager inspected the area near where the attack occurred the day after, but could not find any bees or wasps or anything that looked like a hive. Eventually, one was discovered in a hole in the ground near a sand trap after 15 minutes of searching.
These will all prove relevant issues in future settlement negotiations and/ or trial if the case is not settled beforehand.
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Staats v. Vinter’s Golf Club, LLC, Aug. 1, 2018, California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division One
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