Golf, Lightning and a Legal Duty of Care

I love to golf even though I'm not very good. My brother-in-law (a very good amateur golfer) got me started about three years ago. One thing I've learned about golf is one superb shot can make up for two really bad ones. I just haven't figured out how to hit a superb shot yet. I've also learned that whether you have had a good or bad day golfing very often depends on your perspective. In that regard, golf is a lot like practicing law.

A Lesson In Perspective
The other day I had a hearing before a judge in Miami on a Motion for Contempt. I represented a creditor who had obtained a judgment against a debtor for failing to pay for a boat he had purchased. I will call the debtor "Mr. Jones" to protect his identity.

Mr. Jones refused to provide my client information related to his finances even though the Judge had ordered him to do so. Check out my article on Collection Law and Post Judgment Discovery for more information on why he had to provide the information.

Mr. Jones was informed by the Judge that he was in Contempt of Court and would have to serve 5 days in jail. He began begging and pleading with the Judge not to send him to jail. He then turned to me and said "What will it take to pay this judgment off?" I gave him a figure, he wrote out a check and deposited it with the Court. The Court verified that the funds were good and recalled the Order of Contempt.

In a matter of seconds Mr. Jones' perspective on paying off the judgment changed. When he viewed paying the judgment as wasting hard earned money on a vehicle that he no longer possessed (it was repossessed and sold at auction) he resented the payment. When he viewed the payment as a way to keep himself out of jail he seemed almost happy about being able to write the check.

Another Lesson In Perspective
Similar to Mr. Jones, one Golf and Country Club in Kansas has recently experienced a change in perspective; at least when it comes to protecting its golfers from dangerous weather conditions. The facts of the case are these:

The weather forecast called for inclement weather. Two golfers decided to try to get in a round of golf before the storm hit and the weather became bad. At some point in their round the manager of the country club sounded a loud horn indicating the storm was approaching. The golfers finished the hole they were on and began walking back to the clubhouse. As the golfers walked back to the clubhouse a flash of lightning struck the two. One of the golfers was knocked unconscious but later recovered and the other suffered permanent lifelong injuries.

That is the "Golf" and "Lightning" part of the story.

A Legal Duty of Care
The next part of the story is somewhat technical because of the legalese involved. As it turns out, the manager of the country club had sounded the alarm because of a Club policy. It was the Club's policy that an alarm system be set up and used to warn its members of approaching storms. We know the manager sounded the alarm. What we don't know is whether the manager sounded the alarm in time to sufficiently warn the two golfers.

Now to the legalese. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Club was not required to have a policy to protect its members from dangerous storms. Further, without a policy the Club would have been free from the burden of installing the alarm system equipment and using it correctly. However, since the Club did have a policy, the policy created a legal obligation (or duty of care) on the Club to ensure the alarm system equipment was set up properly and that it was used properly. As a result of trying to protect its golfers, the Club had opened itself up to lawsuits for failing to follow through with the protection.

The Club's perspective prior to the suit was that it would be nice to watch out for its golfers and warn them about inclement weather. That perspective has almost certainly changed. Lawsuits often have a way of changing people's perspectives.
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