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New Jersey Trial Court Holds No Duty to Warn of Companion’s Terrible Slice

Blogs, Sports & Recreation

In a recent unpublished decision, a New Jersey trial court held that a golfer could not be held liable in negligence for his companion’s errant shot, and had no duty to warn others on the course of the errant shot. Corino v. Duffy, et al., Docket No.: ESX-L-1111-12 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div., Nov. 22, 2013).

Schweizer, Chovanec, and Duffy were teeing off on the 16th hole at a golf course in New Jersey, while the plaintiff (Corino) and his brother were in the fairway of the 15thhole, which ran parallel (in opposite directions) to the 16th hole. The plaintiff and his brother allowed the threesome to tee off, and then prepared to take their own shots. Unbeknownst to the plaintiff, Duffy (with his companions’ permission) took a mulligan, which sliced onto the 15th hole fairway and struck him in the eye. The plaintiff sued the threesome, alleging they were liable in negligence for allowing Duffy to take a mulligan, and also for failing to warn the plaintiff of Duffy’s errant shot. Schweizer and Chovanec filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that they – not having made the shot that injured the plaintiff – could not be held liable in negligence. The Court agreed, and granted summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint as against Schweizer and Chovanec.

In reaching its decision, the court discussed the two seminal cases in New Jersey applicable to the set of facts presented by the plaintiff’s claims – Crawn v. Campo, which held that the duty of care applicable to participants in a recreational sport is to avoid inflicting an injury caused by reckless or intentional conduct, and Schick v. Ferolito, which held that an issue of fact existed as to whether a golfer acted recklessly when the golfer took a shot while the plaintiff was in the “line of fire.” 

The Court held that as neither Schweizer or Chovanec had actually made the shot that injured the plaintiff, neither of them could be found reckless. While the plaintiff argued that Schweizer and Chovanec’s recklessness stemmed from their decision to allow Duffy to take a mulligan, the Court held that Duffy’s allegedly reckless conduct could not be imputed to the other golfers. Furthermore, despite the plaintiff submitting an expert report arguing to the contrary, the Court held that neither Schweizer or Chovanec had a duty to warn the plaintiff of Duffy’s errant shot. Even assuming there was such a duty (on the part of either Schweizer, Chovanec, or Duffy), the Court questioned whether the failure to warn the plaintiff would rise to the level of recklessness necessary to find liability. Having already determined, however, that neither Schweizer nor Chovanec could be liable for Duffy’s errant shot, the Court held that neither of them had a duty to warn the plaintiff of it. Thus, while Schweizer and Chovanec may not have played the game as gentlemen, there was no basis for them to be held liable in negligence.

A copy of the decision may be obtained by clicking here