A lawsuit filed by a golf tournament spectator who got whacked in the head by a golf ball is headed back for another round in court following a Wyoming Supreme Court ruling on Sept. 14.
The court ruled 3-2 against tournament organizers and sent the case to district court for reconsideration. The district court had granted the organizers summary judgment in the case, prompting the appeal to the high court.
The accident happened at the 2006 Wyoming Open Golf Tournament in Cheyenne. James Creel got hit as he stood to the side of the green at the 320-yard first hole at the Cheyenne Airport Golf Club.
The injury knocked out Creel. He suffered a brain injury and “numerous inner ear injuries” that have cost thousands of dollars in medical bills, according to the lawsuit.
Brett Veesart, the golfer who had teed off behind the group Creel was watching, didn’t yell “fore!” per custom when a ball is seen headed somebody’s way, the lawsuit claimed.
A district judge allowed the lawsuit to go forward against Veesart but granted summary judgment for the tournament organizers, Lew Lepore and Mike Lepore, of L&L Inc.
Creel and his wife, Brenda Creel, appealed to the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit centered on the inherent risks of watching a golf tournament in person.
A state law called the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act states that anybody who participates in a sport or recreational activity assumes legal responsibility for injuries they get as a result of risks inherent to that activity. In this case, Creel was considered a participant in golf even though he was a spectator.
The tournament was somewhat informal for golf, with spectators following groups of players around on the course. Spectators were not cordoned off from the players.
The district judge found that flying golf balls are an inherent risk at golf tournaments. But the Supreme Court found that some questions still needed to be answered before the lawsuit can be resolved.
Creel’s attorney, Richard Gage, said he was pleased by the ruling. “The clients need to have their day in court and they’re going to get it now, and that’s great,” Gage said.
An attorney for the tournament organizers, Grant Curry, didn’t immediately return a phone message Friday.
The Creels didn’t dispute that getting hit by a golf ball, generally, is an inherent risk of playing golf or being a spectator at a golf tournament. The unanswered questions, the Supreme Court ruled, involve whether the tournament organizers increased the risk.
Vessart testified that he told a tournament volunteer he didn’t want to tee off because he thought he could hit the green, where people were still present. Even so, he said, the volunteer encouraged him to tee off because the tournament was behind schedule.
Three of the five Supreme Court justices recused themselves. They did not offer an explanation, though not doing so is standard practice for the high court.
Three district court judges sat in for the justices and two of those three dissented. They wrote that the facts in the case granted immunity to the tournament organizers under the Recreation Safety Act.