Friday, November 18, 2011

How a round of golf cost £400,000

Thousands of people who enjoy a game of golf this weekend may unwittingly be putting their home at risk.

True, the risk is infinitely small, but a £400,000 damages award against a golfer and golf club after another golfer lost an eye in an accident demonstrates the extent of damage awards in an increasingly litigious society.

Where people used to say ‘accidents happen’ many are now more inclined to seek compensation. With the best will in the world, most golfers will admit to having sliced the ball on occasion. Very few, fortunately, result in serious injury.

Sadly, that was not the case when novice golfer Anthony Phee, 44, was struck by a golf ball and lost an eye during a round at Niddry Castle Golf Course in Winchburgh, West Lothian.

He sued James Gordon, the man who struck the bad shot, and the golf club at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, seeking damages for the injury he suffered.

He said it had been a “harrowing experience” to partially lose his sight. The judge who heard the case, Lord Brailsford, ruled that Mr Gordon was 70pc responsible for the accident. The remaining 30pc of liability rested with the golf club for its “failure” to erect proper warning signs on the course.

David Sandison, senior partner of Lawford Kidd Solicitors in Edinburgh, said: “We are delighted that, after a long struggle, Mr Phee has been awarded compensation for his injuries. Damages have been agreed at around £400,000.”

It remains to be seen how the award will be paid for. While many golf clubs have indemnity insurance to cover their liability, most individual golfers would struggle to meet such large unexpected costs without insurance.

Fortunately, because the risk of a claim is so low, so is the cost of cover. John Hayes of CCV Underwriting Sports & Leisure, and a member of the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA), said: “Individual golf players can have up to £5m indemnity cover at an annual cost of just £7.50, including all fees and taxes, from Golfsafe Insurance.

“In addition we offer a more comprehensive policy from Caddysure, with premiums starting at £27.26, which covers the same third party liabilties but also loss or damage to equipment and accidental damage to third party property.”

That raises the important point that golfers are far more likely to suffer financial loss because of the theft of their clubs and other equipment, or to be held liable for breaking windows in nearby homes or cars, than they are to cause the horrific injury suffered by Mr Phee.

So, one way to determine the level of cover golfers need is to look at the value of their equipment. Carrick Neill – the trading name of Giles Insurance Brokers – offers a specialist golfers’ policy where premiums start at £20 a year for equipment worth up to £500, rising to £55 a year to cover gear costing up to £2,500. Additional cover for a husband, wife or child can be obtained for an additional £15 a year at the lower level of equipment value, rising to £35 at the upper level.

Beware, though, that these costs only cover British golf courses; there is an additional annual charge of £5 per person to cover play elsewhere in Europe or £10 for a worldwide extension. In addition to £5m third party cover, this policy also includes £50,000 personal accident and £500 dental treatment cover for the policyholder him or herself.

But some BIBA brokers point out that good household cover can provide all the third party liability cover most golfers need. Dennis Veingard of Premier Insurance Brokers said: “Liability cover is automatically provided under most household contents policies and some insurers include reverse liability for unrecoverable courts awards.

“The injured party claims against the golfer and the golfer then notifies his insurer. If the golfer is uninsured and unable to pay any court award, under reverse liability cover an injured party could claim on his own policy.”

Similarly, Ian Smith of Bennett Gould & Partners said: “Many home contents insurance policies provide worldwide liability cover. They will usually exclude accidents involving motorised vehicles, watercraft and horsedrawn vehicles but will cover liability arising from golf or other sporting accidents.

"The increase in the number of these claims clearly mirrors the increasingly litigious nature of society and inevitably leads to increases in premium as both the number and size of claims increases.”

But serious injuries on the golf course remain very rare. Orthopedic surgeon Dr Larry Foster, author of ‘Dr. Divot’s Guide to Golf Injuries’ says the most common are back pain, elbow and shoulder inflammation, followed by carpal tunnel syndrome – a repetitive stress disorder that affects the nerves of the hands – and DeQuervain’s tendinitis, which causes pain in the wrist near the base of the thumb.

None of these conditions is likely to be covered by specialist golf policies – unless it can be proved that the injury was caused by playing the game and resulted in disability or redundancy, in which case one year’s golf club fees can be reimbursed.

On a brighter note, specialist golf policies can pay out £150 if the policyholder hits a hole in one during an official club, area or national competition.

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