Settlement reached in Niddry Castle case28th November, 2013 by Alistair Dunsmuir
A settlement has finally been reached in the case of the golfer who lost his eye on the golf course and successfully sued both the golfer and the golf club, Niddry Castle, for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The six-year saga has ended with an undisclosed settlement and both the Scottish Golf Union (SGU) and Golf Union of Wales (GUW) issuing a warning to all golf clubs.
In 2007, Anthony Phee, a visitor at Niddry Castle Golf Club in Scotland, lost an eye when a ball hit by James Gordon struck him. He then launched a case against Gordon for dangerous play and a case against Niddry Castle for poor risk management with regards the course’s layout.
In 2011 Phee was awarded just under £400,000, of which the club had to pay nearly £120,000 due to a lack of warning signs, and the golfer the remainder.
Niddry Castle appealed the decision and, to its surprise, in 2013 the appeal court substantially increased – by an extra £200,000 – the amount the club had to pay Phee, reducing Gordon’s liability to less than £80,000 (from 70 percent to 20 percent).
According to insurance magazine Post, the three parties have now agreed a settlement amid warnings that the saga, and rises in costs, could have continued for several more years.
The case has led to the SGU and GUW issuing a joint statement calling for golf clubs to pay greater attention to risk management.
‘This decision makes it imperative that clubs give greater attention to general health and safety procedures, in particular the area of course hazards, and the insurance you have in place at your club.
‘The court found the club’s failure to warn was a significant failure and was of a greater magnitude than that of Mr Gordon,’ it said.
Three Scottish local authorities that run golf courses have said they have carried out reviews of their procedures following the case.
Glasgow Life said it was examining its guidance to players in the light of the judgment, a spokeswoman for South Lanarkshire Council said a review had been undertaken “of our on-course risk assessments incorporating directional and safety signage” and Edinburgh Leisure said that after the court case it introduced compulsory golfers’ insurance which covers individuals who play on its municipal courses.
David Moir, secretary of Cathkin Braes Golf Club, said his club had carried out a risk assessment and introduced new warning notices, although he added that “the wee white ball is easily hit poorly and travels in a direction which it is not intended on many occasions”.
“The more warning signs the better the chance of all members, guests and walkers on the course will be aware of the need for vigilance,” he said.
The SGU and GUW statement pointed out that Niddry Castle had encouraged visitors to play on the golf course, whether or not they were experienced golfers.
‘It was not entitled to assume that the people walking on the course were aware of the rules of golf or how to respond to a warning shout,’ it said.
‘It ought to have been aware that some golfers would be beginners or relatively inexperienced and it was not entitled to assume that all golfers would play in a safe manner all of the time.
‘Niddry Castle had a lack of any local rule that players could not drive from the 18th tee when people were walking on the path and there was no evidence that golfers were specifically discouraged from doing so.
‘It was not apparent that the club’s accident book was readily available for the reporting of incidents of accidents caused by golfers.
‘While a timely warning shout would often avoid serious injury when a golf ball was being hit a considerable distance and there was time to react to the shout, there was a greater danger if someone did not know how to respond to the shout or from where the danger was coming.’
The statement concluded: ‘Golf clubs and responsible officials need to understand that the general duty of care to members, visitors and employees has not altered, however this judgment places an onerous responsibility on clubs to ensure that the appropriate risk assessments are completed and that members and visitors are fully aware of the rules of golf.’
Kate Bennett of HBM Sayers Solicitors, representing Mr Gordon, said her client remained disappointed that there was no finding of negligence on the part of Mr Phee for his failure to respond to warning shouts.
She welcomed the SGU’s decision to recommend golf clubs give greater attention to general health and safety procedures and insurance arrangements however, and added that individual golfers are also encouraged to carry specialist golfers’ insurance.