The Hazards Of Walking On A Golf Course (NJ)

In the recent unreported decision of Joseph Lareau v. Somerset County Park Commission, et al, Lareau filed a complaint for injuries sustained when he slipped and fell on wet indoor/outdoor carpeting while crossing a footbridge on a nearby golf course.  The golf course was only open to paying customers and was closed at the time of the incident.  Lareau was out for a walk on the golf course when the accident occurred.  The defendants made several arguments, including that Lareau was a trespasser on the premises; they did not breach any duty of care towards him to the extent that he was a licensee; and Lareau’s claims were barred under New Jersey’s Landowners Liability Act (LLA).

The trial court found that even if Lareau was a licensee, the defendants were not liable for his accident since there was no evidence that they breached a duty of care by failing to warn of a dangerous condition of which they had actual notice.  Moreover, the court found that the defendants were immune from liability under the LLA, which provides that an owner “owes no duty to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for sport or recreational activities, or to give warning of any hazardous condition of the land or in connection with the use of any structure or by reason of any activity on such premises to persons entering for such purposes.”

The Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, noting that the LLA has been interpreted to afford immunity to “rural and semi-rural or open tracts of land”, such as the subject golf course.  The fact that the land has been improved so that it can be used as a golf course is irrelevant because the LLA provides that immunity applies to lands, regardless of whether they are improved or used for commercial purposes.  In conclusion, the court noted that extending immunity to the defendants under the LLA would encourage them to allow members of the general public to continue to have limited access to the course for some recreational use.

Special thanks to Heather Aquino for her contributions to this post.  For more information, please contact Nicole Y. Brown at nbrown@wcmlaw.com.