The Kentucky Court of Appeals recently denied relief to John Amshoff for injuries he suffered when he slipped on a footbridge on Nevel Meade Golf Course.
As the court described it:
“Amshoff’s injury occurred while he was participating in a charity golf scramble at Nevel Meade. The course conditions were wet that day as it had been raining the night before and intermittently throughout the morning. At the seventeenth hole, Amshoff had to walk across a wooden footbridge to retrieve his ball. Golfers are not permitted to ride carts across the bridge, which spans a creek bed and connects the cart path to the fairway. The bridge is approximately seven feet wide. A rubber anti-slip mat about three feet in width runs down the center of the entire length of the bridge. The mat does not, however, extend all the way to the edges of the bridge. This gap on either side allows maintenance vehicles to cross the bridge without damaging the matting.”
So, what’s the common-sense way to cross the bridge? Obvious…. stay on the matting. That’s not what Mr. Amshoff did, however. Again, from the court:
“Amshoff walked down the middle of the footbridge and just before reaching the end, cut across the corner and stepped off the matting and onto the wooden portion of the bridge. He slipped and fell, breaking his wrist.”
Mr. Amshoff sued, claiming that the golf club “was negligent in failing to maintain the wooden footbridge and knew or had reason to know that an unreasonably dangerous condition existed on the walking surface of the bridge yet failed to warn of or remedy the condition, including the lack of an anti-slip surface covering the entirety of the walking surface and the lack of handrails.”
Mr. Amshoff, or at least his attorney, should have known that the club would bring in an expert witness to rebut the claims. And that the club did, engaging Louis Miller, whose credentials were summarized by the court:
“Miller, who has a degree in agronomy with a major in turfgrass from Penn State University, was described as possessing over forty years of experience in golf course design, construction and maintenance, including his experience with golf course cart and/or foot bridge construction/reconstruction at courses such as Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville Country Club, and Quail Chase Golf Course. His company was involved in the construction of numerous golf courses in Kentucky and was awarded a perfect score as top builder in the country in 2000. He served as the Golf Course Superintendent at the Louisville Country Club for thirty-three years, and twice past president of the Kentuckiana Golf Course Superintendents Association. Miller was expected to testify that there are no particular rules or standards in the golf course industry that require the inclusion of handrails or rubber matting as features in the construction of golf course bridges or cart bridges. He was further expected to testify that the physical features of the footbridge at issue were within recognized and accepted customs and practice for the construction of golf course bridges.”
Faced with the prospect of convincing the jury to reject the opinion of Mr. Miller, plaintiff Amshoff argued to the court that it was unnecessary and improper overkill to permit him to testify. Plaintiff argued that:
“Miller’s testimony would not assist the jury in resolving the primary factual issue at trial, which was whether Nevel Meade failed to use ordinary care in its maintenance of the wooden footbridge and failed to warn of a hazardous condition. He argued that resolving this issue did not require the application of a ‘standard of care’ or any scientific or specialized knowledge about customs and practices generally in the golf course industry. He contended that Miller’s testimony would offer nothing that was not already within the common knowledge and experience of the jury…”
In other words, for Mr. Amshoff, the issue was one of common sense, an interesting position to take by one who bailed out on the protective matting while cutting the corner.
The trial court, however, permitted the defense to call Mr. Miller as an expert. In affirming the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals explained:
“Miller’s ‘common sense’ was not the same as that of the average juror. Matters relating to golf course features are not within the common sense or everyday knowledge of most people. Miller’s broad experience in the construction and maintenance of golf courses meant his testimony could be useful to jurors who were not familiar with industry customs relating to golf course bridges. Indeed, many members of the jury might not be familiar with the game of golf itself.”
My takeaway: build a strong resume in golf course design and construction, and you, too, may have an opportunity to be paid handsome expert witness fees to opine that a golf club is not responsible to one who chooses to stray off the protective path.
Rob is the publisher of www.golfdisputeresolution.com