Landmark ruling goes against injured golfer who sued his club

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 5, 2016 12:05

A golfer who sued his own golf club after suffering brain damage when being hit on the head by a stray ball has lost his case in a landmark ruling.

The judge said his club could not have foreseen or prevented the incident.

The decision comes less than five years after a golfer at Niddry Castle Golf Club was awarded nearly £400,000 when he lost an eye after being hit by a stray ball. The money had to be paid by both the club and the golfer who hit the ball, and since then other golfers have received large payouts following similar incidents.

judge chris potter

Flickr / Chris Potter

In this latest ruling, Iain Gray, 69, who had been a member of Workington Golf Club in Cumbria for more than 50 years, was playing the second hole when a ball struck from the first tee, 220 yards away, hit him.

The ball, which had been hit by Graeme Hodkin, 47, had veered off to the left and sailed over a copse of 20 feet-high trees before striking Mr Gray.

He suffered from a puncture to his skull, bruising and bleeding to his brain in the accident, a county court trial at West Cumbria court house was told.

The injuries left him with brain damage and a greater risk of epilepsy.

He told the court that he had not heard Mr Hodkin shout “fore”.

He said that he was unable to drive for eight months, had to take a break from his work as a school sports coach and his speech and word recall were affected.

The court considered the risk of such an injury occurring and whether the club had done all it could to assess and minimise the risk.

After hearing that there had been one accident in 44 years at the club, where about 20,000 games were played each year, the judge, Catherine Howells, dismissed the claim, saying that the club could not have foreseen or prevented such an incident.

Peter Burns, for the golf club, explained how the tree-packed copse on the left did provide effective shelter from balls heading towards the second green from the first. However, it was only effective, he said, if the balls travelled lower than the trees.


Mr Gray, who has been a member since the age of 17, said later: “When you suffer significant brain damage that affects your life and family but the law deems you have lost the case — it tells you everything.”

He said he had since returned to playing golf, but added: “Of course I am more nervous. But I had to take a necessary first step back to my recovery as I loved playing golf and looked forward to playing in my retirement.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 5, 2016 12:05
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  1. Jonathan Gaunt May 5, 20:42

    Hmmm – looking at the holes in plan view on Google Earth it looks like the claimant was badly advised. The safety margins are narrow/small between holes #1 and #2. The club should have been aware of this relationship – and if their responsibility as operators of the facility – I feel very sorry for the claimant. Jonathan Gaunt – Senior Member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects.

    Reply to this comment
  2. John Ross May 5, 20:20

    Unlike the Niddry Castle ruling where the accident was in a known hot spot this golf club was able to present a defence of “not foreseeable”

    The Niddry precedent will still be referred to, and judges will make a decision based on all the evidence presented to them.

    I feel this claimant was badly advised as there is no similarity with Niddry case other than being hit by an errant golf shot

    John Ross MG TechIOSH

    Reply to this comment
    • John Ross May 6, 08:51

      We must bear in mind that Niddry went to appeal, this was at a higher court where ruling was made by Lord Hodge, Lord Clarke and Lord Philip, giving the precedent set by that ruling on “foreseeability” legal substance until it is overruled or amended by a court of equal standing.

      They clearly found that there was a case against the club and stated what that case was. It was not the design of the golf course but a failing to manage the design of the golf course.

      John Ross MG TechIosh

      I suspect that the claimant will not be appealing the decision made re Workington due to enormous costs of an appeal

      Reply to this comment
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