Court of Appeals Clarifies Standard of Care that Applies to Participants in Recreational Activities

“A person who engages in a recreational activity is temporarily adopting a set of rules that define that particular pastime or sport. In many instances, the person is also suspending the rules that normally govern everyday life.”

If you operate a business that involves any type of recreational activity – golfing, dancing, sailing, swimming, etc – it is important to understand the standard of care you owe to your customers and that they owe to each other. Typically, participants in a recreational activity have a duty not to act recklessly.  The “reckless” standard is a lesser standard of a care than the “negligent” standard that applies to most other daily activities.  The reason for the lessened standard is that participants, by engaging in recreational activities, have agreed to certain risks inherent with the activity.

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently addressed the limitations of the reckless standard in Bertin v. Mann, 2016 Mich App LEXIS 2405.  In Bertin, the Court of Appeals addressed whether or not the “reckless” standard applied to certain activities that are associated with a recreational activity, but not integral to the activity.  Specifically, the case involved an injury to a golfer who was run over by a golf cart.

The defendant golf cart operator in the case argued that he could not be liable unless he had operated the golf cart recklessly because the parties were participating in a recreational activity.  The injured plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that the appropriate standard was ordinary negligence because injury caused by a golf cart was not an “inherent risk” of golfing.  The Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiff and held that the “negligent” standard applied to the operation of the golf cart.  In making its decision, the Court of Appeals noted that being struck by a golf cart – unlike being struck by an errant golf ball – is not a risk that is inherent with the game of golf.  The Court of Appeals also noted that a golf cart, unlike a golf ball or club, is not a necessary part of the game of golf.

This may spell an end for younger patrons who believe that their golf carts are go-karts, and it may even have an effect on how golfers operate their vehicles. In order to combat liability, a golfer will need to stay vigilant and cognizant of their riding partner’s whereabouts. An accidental collision could result in thousands of dollars of damage. No one wants to foot that type of bill. Drive carefully or walk the course, it will probably take a few strokes off your game.

This article was written by Nezar Habhab, Law Clerk.

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