By: Rob Harris
Every now and then a case appears that makes even ardent plaintiff’s lawyers feel a bit sheepish. Rochford v. Woodloch Pines, Inc., 10-CV-3190, is such a case.
Mr. Rochford broke his ankle on the 15th hole at Woodloch Pines Golf Course, in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. The problem with the case, according to the opinion written by United States District Judge Jack Weinstein, concerns the circumstances in which Mr. Rochford injured himself.
Apparently, the undisputed facts revealed the following:
- It began to drizzle by the 4th hole.
- By the end of the 14th hole, it was raining hard enough that Mr. Rochford and his three playing companions considered stopping.
- Having consumed 2-3 beers by that point, Rochford decided to play on.
- After hitting his second shot on the 15th hole, Rochford elected to access the green by descending the hole’s brick and wooden railroad tie stairs. He could have opted to descend on grass, as he had on previous occasions and as did two of the foursome on this rainy day.
- Rochford slipped, broke his ankle, hired a lawyer and sued.
Confronted with the need to show negligence by the club in maintaining the stairs, plaintiff argued that that the stairs should have been installed with a hand rail and that the stairs did not have a slip resistant tread surface as stipulated in an international building code.
The problem with these arguments, for Judge Weinstein, was that the Woodloch Pines golf course is not a building. Therefore, by its own terms, the international building code did not apply. As for the absent hand rail, Judge Weinstein succinctly noted that it “was an open and obvious condition. As an experienced golfer, [Rochford] should have appreciated the nature of the danger.”
More important for Judge Weinstein was the fact that, as he explained, “[n]o matter how carefully we construct golf courses in the form of earthly Elysian fields, they necessarily retain some dangers to those who use them. With the pleasures of playing in the rain on artificially-created natural paradises come the known risks of walking on wet steps and grounds. The sportsman himself is expected to be on guard.”
The Case of the Slippery Steps brings to mind more serious wet conditions encountered approximately one year ago by a golfer whose drive on the 7th hole at the Knob Hill Golf Course in Manalapan, New Jersey ended up near a small lake. When she went to retrieve her drive, she was sucked into mud up to her waist, where she remained immobilized until rescue personnel arrived and freed her after 20 minutes of effort. No rain, no beers, no hand rail, and, to the best of my knowledge, no lawsuit. Golf as it should be.