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November 2022

An Appeal Worth Watching

NGCOA Takes You Inside the Courtroom

By Ronnie Miles

Many of you may have read about the golf course that lost a $5M legal decision to homeowners claiming damages from errant golf balls.

The NGCOA Advocacy department has been working with Indian Pond Country Club, a private golf club in Massachusetts that a homeowner recently sued for errant golf balls hitting their home on the golf course. Indian Pond CC lost the case in the lower court, and the jury awarded the plaintiff nearly $5 million.

The Indian Pond CC owner appealed the decision directly to the State Supreme Court. The court agreed to hear the case in October. The owner and his legal team asked NGCOA and our New England affiliate to assist their case by filing an amicus brief on behalf of the industry.

His defense primarily centers around the lower court's failing to acknowledge the property easement, to make homeowners aware of golf balls entering their property and permit players to enter the property to retrieve their balls. This was included in the homeowner's property purchase agreement.

The Massachusetts State Supreme Court heard the Indian Pond CC appeal on October 7, 2022. Elaine Gebhardt, Executive Director, NEGCOA, attended the hearing and shared her observations from the proceeding.

Gebhardt reported the court was confused by the two versions of the easement. The first version covers initially developed lots (1-34), and the second adds the expanded lots (35-84). The plaintiff's homesite was on lot #80. The judges appeared to understand the confusion created by the two versions.

The judges seemed keenly aware that anyone desiring to live adjacent to a golf course fairway should expect errant golf balls.

While hearing testimony from the plaintiff’s attorney, the court was interested in how the lower court arrived at a $3.4 million judgment for pain and suffering. Their attorney did not have established case law to support this level of award. One of the judges noted a case of similar nature was awarded $2,500. There was no medical evidence to support this level of award. When asked about the number of golf balls that hit the home, the attorney stated that ten balls hit the home over the last three months. The attorney was asked what the homeowner should expect when living on a golf course. The attorney felt their client should not have to expect any golf balls to enter their property and cause damage to their home.

The hearing lasted less than one hour. The court will have up to 130 days to issue a decision. The major takeaway for NGCOA is that the court judges appeared to understand and support the rights of land owners to hold and enforce rights of property easements. Click here to view the hearing proceedings.

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