Lawyers at William Fry say that a recent High Court decision has important implications for sports clubs, tournament organisers and event spectators.
They were referring to a ruling earlier this year that dismissed a claim from a spectator who was struck by a golf ball while attending the West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point Golf Club in 2016.
In a note on the firm’s website, Craig Sowman and Derek Hegarty explain that the case was brought against the Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) as event organiser, Rosses Point Golf Club in Co Sligo as the venue, and Kevin Le Blanc, a leading amateur golfer who struck the shot.
The plaintiff claimed that Le Blanc hit a wayward shot and should have shouted “fore” to warn other players and spectators of an approaching ball.
He also argued that both Rosses Point Golf Club and the GUI failed to take reasonable care for the safety of spectators by failing to provide stewards to direct him where to stand, by failing to put a fence around his vantage point and by failing to erect signs to warn spectators of the danger while standing there.
He argued that Mr Le Blanc, Rosses Point Golf Club and the GUI owed him a duty of reasonable care.
The court, however, accepted evidence that Le Blanc’s shot had not been wayward, and that it would have been impractical and unreasonable for him to have walked up the fairway to check for spectators in any blind spots, as was suggested by the plaintiff.
The William Fry lawyers note that the court found that the duty of care owed to spectators is not to act in “wanton disregard” for their safety, a duty which was not breached in the case.
The court found that the plaintiff was a recreational user responsible to a huge extent for his own safety. Spectators attending the West of Ireland Championship were held to be self-policing spectators who were deemed to have been knowledgeable about golf, and reasonably expected to take care of their own safety.
The lawyers say that, while not specifically considered by the court, a higher duty of care is likely to be owed to spectators attending professional or ticketed events, such as those on the European PGA Tour.
“The Irish High Court’s decision is important for golf and other participation sports by confirming that recreational users remain responsible to a huge extent for their own safety,” the William Fry lawyers say.