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Who is Liable for a Golf Cart Accident?

Florida law defines a golf cart as “a motor vehicle that is designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes and that is not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 miles per hour.” Golf carts are becoming increasingly popular outside of their traditional athletic setting, such as in retirement communities. Their lower speed makes them seemingly more appropriate to operate alongside bicyclists and pedestrians, and their incomplete frame makes them tens of thousands of dollars less expensive than traditional automobiles. Unfortunately, the same attributes of golf carts that lead to their popularity also exacerbate the frequency of golf cart accidents, including crashes between two golf carts, crashes between a golf cart and a traditional automobile, and crashes between a golf cart and a pedestrian. On many golf courses and in many communities, golf carts and pedestrians share a sidewalk, yielding less separation than between a car on the road and a pedestrian on an adjacent sidewalk. Golf carts’ incomplete frame and lack of airbags makes them far less crashworthy than modern automobiles, so two golf carts colliding at twenty miles per hour may precipitate more injuries than two automobiles colliding at fifty miles per hour. When a golf cart lessee negligently runs over a golfer, who is responsible for the golfer’s injuries? In 1984, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the blame for the injury defaults to the owner of the golf cart.

Relevant Cases

In the case of Meister v. Fisher, Emerald Hills Country Club had rented golf carts out to both the Meister family and Paul Fisher. Fisher’s golf cart crashed into the Meisters’ golf cart, which Mr. Meister had braked so he could get a drink of water. This collision injured Mrs. Meister, leading her and her husband to sue both Fisher and Emerald Hills Country Club for compensation for her injuries. Meister argued that the Club was vicariously liable (indirectly responsible) for Mrs. Meister’s injuries, because the golf cart was “dangerous instrumentality.” He cited a previous case that found automobiles to be dangerous instrumentality, making golf carts therefore also dangerous instrumentality. The Florida Supreme Court dismissed a counterargument that the dangerous instrumentality doctrine did not apply because the golf carts collided on a privately-owned pathway rather than a public road by reasoning that a golf cart doesn’t “somehow [cease] to be … dangerous …” the instant its driver turns it off a public road and onto a private drive. Because the court found the “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine to apply to the case, it held the Emerald Hills Country Club liable for Mrs. Meister’s injuries.

Handling a Golf Cart Accident Case

If you are involved in a golf cart accident, you should first gather evidence for your case, like photos of the accident scene and the golf cart(s), witness statements, police reports, and maintenance records and rental agreements for the golf cart. Then, you should contact an experienced personal injury legal team, such as Oldham & Smith, Attorneys at Law, that can help you seek compensation for your injuries or help defend you from the claims against you. Oldham & Smith specializes in golf cart accident cases, and has a proven track record of success.

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