Not quite the ‘rub of the green’: Man fails to sue golf course despite falling down dangerous manhole

We are all accustomed to reading in the papers that people are too quick to sue each other for damages, and that there is no longer any place where an organisation can be safe from the threat of legal action.  However, the recent decision of the Court of Session in the case of Colin Taylor v Des Quigley & Others has stated that there is one exception – the good old fashioned golf club.  Or indeed, any club.

In this case a Mr Taylor was playing golf at his club when he had the bad luck to fall partly into a manhole, due to a defective manhole cover.  He was injured, and sued the eight members of the club committee.  He stated that the committee had not taken enough care to ensure that the course was safe, they had not conducted risk assessments and had not appointed a special Health & Safety Convenor.  If these steps had been taken he would not have been injured.  Normally, he might have had a good case.  Unfortunately, his case did not even get off the ground.

The court held that a club is simply the sum of all its members.  This means that if a member of a club is injured and tries to sue the club or its committee for damages, he is in effect trying to sue himself, which is impossible.  The only way he can succeed is if he proves that one or more members of the club are liable to him due to some personal actions they have taken or failed to take as individuals, arising independently of their membership of the club.

Mr Taylor tried to get round this problem by stating that responsibility for health and safety had been delegated to certain members of the committee, and they were therefore personally liable, but the court disagreed, since there were no allegations that these members had done anything wrong in their personal capacities.  They were being sued simply because they were the committee of the club, and for no other reason.

If one of the members had personally removed the manhole cover, or left it inadequately secured, that member might well be liable to pay compensation.  Also, if responsibility for health and safety had been delegated to certain members of the club, and they had personally known of the dangerous manhole, or if the danger had been so obvious that they ought to have known, the case might have succeeded.  But in this case Mr Taylor could do no more than make general statements of what the committee as a whole ought to have done, and so his case was doomed.

This decision applies only to compensation actions for personal injuries.  It does not, for example, mean that a club can’t sue one of its members for failing to pay his subscriptions.  However, logical though the case may be in its way, it is disturbing to learn that club members have no right to compensation in cases such as this, and there is a slight feeling of glibness and unreality about the “you’re just suing yourself” argument.  Also, it cannot be forgotten that if Mr Taylor had been playing that day with a non-member guest who had fallen down the manhole, that guest might have been able to make a successful claim, all of which serves to increase the oddness of the law in this particular field.

Richard Godden
Partner – Dispute Resolution