Michael Shaw: Who is liable if someone slips on ice at your club?

Emma Williams
By Emma Williams November 13, 2011 16:53

Michael Shaw: Who is liable if someone slips on ice at your club?

The severe winter may suffer this year will result in extra work for orthopaedic surgeons and an increase in the fortunes of panel beaters and for those of us in Herefordshire, an increase in the workload of farmers extracting cars from the many ditches out and about.

An untreated footpath can be seen by a pedestrian to be potentially unsafe, and the pedestrian is expected to take appropriate precautions to ensure personal safety. However, a footpath which has been cleared of snow may appear no longer to present a hazard when the opposite may in fact be the case, as relatively safe snow may have been replaced by ice. In these circumstances one can envisage, in these litigious times, an injured pedestrian suing the householder under the provisions of the Occupiers’ Liability Act, which states that an occupier of premises owes what is called the ‘common duty of care’ to visitors to take such care as in all the circumstances is reasonable to ensure that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purpose for which he was invited or permitted by the occupier to be there. If the occupier has by his actions rendered the premises dangerous then he will not have fulfilled his duty to take reasonable care.

How does this translate to golf clubs? I decided to consult with my colleague and Counsel to the Association, Paul Reid, to see what he has to say on the matter. Our task was made a little more difficult due to the absence of any apparent and authoritative case law on the subject other than those to be found in American courts. Here is what he has to say:

“Car parks and footpaths become snow-covered. Members, visitors and guests will still arrive, park and walk to the clubhouse to use the facilities, and clubs will undoubtedly wish to encourage use of the club premises in inclement weather to obtain at least some continuing income.”

What is the potential liability of the club for damages to someone suffering personal injury or damage to property? As with so many issues in the law, the answer is that it comes down to the reasonableness of the club’s actions. If, for example, snow is cleared from steps so as to leave in its place a film of ice upon which a pedestrian slipped and fell, there may well be liability for injury sustained in the fall. If the snow is cleared and salt and grit spread, then, even were there to be a fall and injury, it is far less likely that there would be a successful claim, as it could be said that the occupier had done all that it was reasonable for it to do. Similar considerations would apply to treatment, or lack of it, of the car park.

The Act deals with ‘visitors’; in other words persons who are lawfully on the premises – in the case of golf clubs, members, guests, green-fee payers, delivery drivers and so on. Separate considerations apply to trespassers which need not concern us here. In other words, if you choose to clear away, then it must be done properly and the cleared areas kept clear. Some may decide not to clear snow away at all; however, this may cause a reaction from the members in which case they must understand the cost implications in insisting upon cleared pathways and driveways.

Emma Williams
By Emma Williams November 13, 2011 16:53
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