It could be the driver, owner, property manager... or someone else.
Golf carts: They’re not just for golf courses anymore.
Not everyone who drives or rides in a golf cart is holding a 9 iron in one hand and a cocktail in the other. Golf carts have become ubiquitous, both for recreational outings and on work sites.
Employees on campus-style worksites with multiple buildings or a large property often use golf carts or a similar low-speed vehicle (LSV) for deliveries or transportation. But even though these vehicles aren’t as fast as cars, and usually don’t travel in traffic or on public roads, there are accidents and riders can be injured.
In fact, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is a division of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that during a recent 10-year period, there were more than 150,000 injuries and emergency department visits from golf cart accidents. In fact, the rate of injuries increased about 67% during that time.
Tragically, children are more likely than adults to be injured in a golf cart accident. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found that more than 6,500 children are injured in golf cart accidents each year, and more than half of those injuries are to children younger than 12.
Common uses for golf carts (off the golf course)
College or school campuses
On campuses where buildings are spread out, staff might use golf courts to get across campus or from one building to another more quickly than walking. This is often faster than driving a regular car because a golf cart can travel off-road areas like walking paths for areas that aren’t designed for cars.
Transportation for older individuals or people with disabilities
Retirement communities, hospitals and other places that might be spread out or have outdoor facilities often use golf carts to assist individuals with limited mobility.
Police and security
Police, security officers, or neighborhood watch groups might use golf carts to move freely within communities, conduct check-ins, or similar routine patrols.
Stadiums, amphitheaters, resort properties, beaches and other places where artists must travel from one space to another often use golf carts to move people and equipment.
Gardening, farming, or landscaping
A golf cart can be outfitted with additional cargo baskets to transport soil, animal feed, plants, tools or other items and are often used for farming or landscaping tasks.
Common types of golf cart accidents
Golf carts don’t drive more than 12-14 miles per hour. How dangerous can they be? Well, as it turns out, it’s not so much about the speed as it is about external factors that cause golf cart accidents.
Being thrown from the cart
Golf carts don’t have seatbelts. If the driver makes a sharp turn or drives recklessly, a passenger (or the driver) could be thrown from the cart and injured. The driver could hang on to the steering wheel if the vehicle starts to tip, but a passenger doesn’t have anything to grab for stability.
Being thrown from the cart could happen on even terrain, but the risk is higher on uneven ground. If the surface is wet or muddy, the cart is more likely to tip over and more likely to lose traction.
Body parts outside the cart
You know that warning you see on amusement park rides that says, “Keep your arms, hands, feet, and legs inside the ride at all times?”
It’s the same for a golf cart. If a rider is dangling their legs or arms outside the vehicle, they could get caught in passing objects like tree limbs or other things.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Whether it’s a car, truck, bus, bicycle, scooter, golf cart, or any other wheeled vehicle, drunk driving is always dangerous. Drugs or alcohol can slow reaction time and cause a driver to make poor judgments and decisions behind the wheel; even if you’re in a slow-moving vehicle, it can lead to a grave error.
Distracted driving is a problem, even in a low-speed vehicle. The driver of a golf cart still needs to be wary of pedestrians, road signs, debris, and other obstacles. Driving and texting or being otherwise distracted increases the likelihood of a crash.
Can you sue for a golf cart accident?
An accident does not equal an injury. The accident is the situation that occurs, and the injury is the result. Some accidents happen and don’t lead to injuries—but often, they do.
The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to make a plaintiff (the injured person) whole, or to restore them to the financial condition they would be in if the accident hadn’t happened. To make a legal claim, there needs to be an actual injury that costs you money.
In addition, the defendant needs to be negligent for you to file a lawsuit. They need to have failed to act with reasonable care to prevent you from being injured.
Take a look at these three scenarios:
You went to your cousin’s wedding at a resort with rolling green lawns and picturesque scenery. Because the ceremony was down a hill and a little bit of a distance from the guest rooms, the bride and groom had arranged for golf carts owned by the resort to pick up guests from their rooms and drive them to the ceremony location. On the way, the driver (an employee of the hotel) picked up a little speed and then jolted to a too-fast stop. You fell out of the golf cart and your wedding clothes got dirty but you were otherwise unharmed.
You were in the golf cart heading toward the wedding ceremony and you saw great-aunt Hilda walking down the grassy hill. You were so impressed that she was walking so spryly at her advanced age, and you decided to join her rather than taking the rest of the ride. Without much warning to the golf cart driver, you left your seat and teetered off the edge while the cart was still moving. Your shoe caught on the running board and you fell, injuring your kneecap and breaking a wrist.
The wedding ceremony has ended. The rice was thrown, champagne poured, smiling couple off to pose for photos, and the crowd makes its way from the ceremony to a party tent for the reception. The resort has six golf carts ready to transport guests back up the hill to the reception area, making large loops and running back and forth until each guest has a ride. As expected, guests are eager to get to the reception and some aren’t too patient as they wait for the carts to arrive for their turn. Uncle Seymour is especially impatient and he decides to cut the line to hop on the next cart up the hill. The cart operator sees Seymour’s impatience and speeds up in order to get the guests picked up quickly. The driver doesn’t have a lot of experience with golf carts and he underestimates the speed and the amount of time it takes to stop the cart. He drives right into the crowd of waiting guests and three people suffer injuries.
Can you file a lawsuit for each of these scenarios?
In the first instance, no. You might be able to request that the resort foot the bill for your dry cleaning but you have no basis for a lawsuit because you were not injured. Annoyance and inconvenience are real, but they do not rise to the level of making a claim for personal injury damages.
In the second instance, also no. Yes, you were injured in a golf cart accident. But from the facts presented, it sounds as though the only person who was negligent was you. You can’t sue the driver of the golf cart because you jumped off the side without warning and hurt yourself.
Third instance... yes. It appears that the driver was reckless in driving too fast and should have known to stop the cart sooner. They should have preemptively slowed, knowing the group of people was standing there waiting. An injured person in that situation could file a lawsuit for damages to cover costs associated with their injuries.
ATV and UTV accidents
Accidents involving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or utility-terrain vehicle (UTV) would be treated similarly to golf carts under the law.
An ATV is primarily used for recreation or sports events. These are also called four-wheelers or quads and are designed for designated ATV trails or off-road experiences. Most ATVs are built to accommodate one person but some have seats for both an operator and a passenger.
A UTV is also called a side-by-side vehicle. It’s similar to a golf cart, and can usually transport two, four, or even more passengers. It’s wider than a golf cart and is often equipped for carrying supplies. A UTV is usually more powerful and can drive faster than an ATV or golf cart, but it doesn’t maneuver smoothly and is more likely to flip or roll over.
Who is liable for a golf cart, ATV or UTV accident?
Liability depends on a variety of factors, the most important of which are the circumstances of the accident.
Liable parties (defendants) could include:
Certainly, if the driver was negligent by speeding, driving under the influence, or any other type of reckless or unsafe behavior, they could be liable for a rider’s or bystander’s injuries.
The cart manufacturer
A golf cart injury could become a defective product lawsuit if the cart, itself, was defective. In other words, if it didn’t stop because of faulty brakes, didn’t steer properly because of an issue with the steering mechanism, or something along those lines, it could be the fault of the manufacturer.
The owner of the golf cart and/or property owner
Most people who drive golf carts probably aren’t the owners. The golf caddy, for instance, doesn’t own the course. Employees who drive golf carts around their workplaces aren’t usually the owners. If the accident happens because the golf cart hasn’t been maintained properly, that would be the owner’s fault.
There’s also the doctrine of respondeat superior. This legal doctrine specifies that an employer is responsible for the actions of its employees, provided they are acting within the scope of their official duties. If an employee is responsible for a golf cart accident that injures a customer or guest, the owner/employer could bear liability.
You might also have a premises liability claim against the property owner. The property owner is responsible for ensuring that the property is free from hazards or that notice of a hazard is provided if necessary. If people riding in a golf cart are injured because it tips while going over large branches on the ground, the property owner could be negligent for not removing the fallen branches that should have been known to be in the path of the cart.
There are so many possibilities.
If the golf cart is hit by a car while legally using a shared roadway, the driver of the car could be liable. Alternately, if a pedestrian negligently or purposely gets in the way of a moving golf cart so suddenly that the operator can’t stop in time, that person could be liable.
Ultimately, if you’ve been injured in a golf cart accident, your lawyer will need to review the facts and evidence to determine who are the negligent parties and what they might owe you in compensatory damages.
10 Tips for golf cart, ATV and UTV safety
- Check vehicle maintenance. Inspect the brakes, tires, lights and steering before you head out to ensure everything is working properly.
- Observe the speed limit. Check the manufacturer’s speed limit and use the vehicle within its intended speed. This is likely different from a posted road speed limit intended for cars.
- Follow traffic laws. Particularly if you’re riding a golf cart in a shared area with cars, make sure to stay to the right and abide by traffic signals, lights and stop signs.
- Ride in designated areas. Don’t drive on sidewalks because you could put pedestrians in danger.
- Keep hands and feet inside the vehicle and remain seated. Just like in any other moving vehicle, follow basic safety rules. If there is a seatbelt, use it.
- Follow weight restrictions. The operator should know the manufacturer’s guidelines for a vehicle’s specific weight capacity. Overloading a vehicle or weighting it unevenly could increase the risk of a tip-over accident.
- Use the parking brake. Always engage the brake when you leave the vehicle for any amount of time. Don’t leave the motor running if you need to walk away from the cart.
- Avoid distractions and never drive under the influence. This includes texting or other use of a handheld electronic device, including mapping apps.
- Don’t operate a golf cart, ATV or UTV in bad weather. Just like cars, these types of vehicles can lose traction on slippery surfaces. They also have less protection than a car with enclosed sides, so riders are more likely to experience injury from exposure to the elements. If it’s very windy or heavy rain or other precipitation, this type of vehicle is not recommended.
- Take responsibility for your passengers. If you’re an employee of a resort, a wedding or entertainment venue, a summer camp, or anyplace else and you’re required to transport guests around the premises, make sure you’re comfortable with their ability level and behavior. You can’t control other people, but you can and should let your manager know if you feel that someone is unsafe in the vehicle. If someone can’t ride safely because they’re elderly, too young, intoxicated, disabled, or for any reason would not be able to follow safety rules, you need to notify your manager so you’re not held responsible if they are injured.