Hawaii Supreme Court Golfers Not Liable for Errant Shots

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HONOLULU -- The state Supreme Court has ruled a golfer may not be held liable for mistakenly hitting another golfer with an errant golf ball.
 
In a unanimous decision, the court upheld a lower court ruling to dismiss Ryan Yoneda's lawsuit against Andrew Tom, whose wayward ball hit Yoneda in the eye at Mililani Golf Course in 1999.
 
Chief Justice Ronald Moon wrote Yoneda assumed the risk of the injury when he played golf.
 
It is 'common knowledge that not every shot played by a golfer goes exactly where he intends it to go,' the ruling said, adding there wouldn't be much 'sport' in the 'sport of golf,' if golf balls went exactly where the player wanted.
 
The April 28 ruling makes clear a golfer who intentionally hits a ball to inflict injury, or recklessly hits the ball knowing that injury is highly likely, would not be exempt from liability.
 
Yoneda filed suit after Tom's ball hit his left eye.
 
The impact of the ball left Yoneda with a black-eye bruise that didn't go away for a month-and-a-half. His eye welled shut and he also suffered permanent vision damage.
 
The court considered whether golfers should have to shout 'fore' or other warnings to protect other players. The justices concluded, however, that doing so was golf etiquette, not a requirement recognized by law.
 
Yoneda, 33, said many people would get hurt because the ruling didn't require golfers to yell a word of caution on the greens.
 
'With the ruling that warning is like an option, that's not too good,' Yoneda said. 'I know what it's like to be hit and I don't want anybody to go through what I went through.'
 
In a sworn deposition in the case, Tom said he was about 175 yards from the green in the light rough when he hooked his 5-iron shot to the left.
 
The ball hit the fairway, bounced into the rough, then a dirt area, then on a cart path before it hit Yoneda who was riding on a golf cart to the sixth hole, the court said.
 
Tom, 33, said he didn't yell 'fore' because he hadn't seen the cart.
 
His lawyer declined to comment on the court's ruling, citing a pending suit by Yoneda against Sports Shinko, which owned the golf course at the time.
 
Gary Wild, president of the Hawaii State Golf Association, said U.S. Golf Association etiquette rules require a player to shout a warning if the ball is in danger of hitting someone.
 
Starting two years ago, a player who repeatedly violates that rule can be disqualified, Wild added.
 
Wild said he supported the high court's ruling because golfers know they may be hit by a ball.
 
'No one wants to hurt someone else out there playing golf,' he said. 'If something happens, I don't think a golfer should be liable for that.'
 
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