The recent case of Colin Taylor v Des Quigley and Others has confirmed that members of a club are not entitled to sue their fellow members for personal injury. The Court of Session (Scotland's High Court) confirmed the "common members rule" - the established principle that club members owe no duty of care to each other. The status of a golf club member, for example as a committee convenor or steward, is irrelevant, and on that point the case may have been decided differently if raised in England.
Mr Taylor was a member of Colville Park Golf Club in Motherwell. In June 2011 he stepped onto a loose manhole cover on the course and fell, sustaining serious injuries to his right leg. He brought a case against eight named members of the club's executive board, arguing that they owed personal duties to ensure the club premises were maintained in a safe condition.
Before any evidence was heard, the parties debated whether or not Mr Taylor's case contained sufficient facts which, if proved, would enable him to succeed. Lord Uist dismissed Mr Taylor's case on the basis that club members do not owe a duty of care to each other, and therefore one member could not sue another. It did not matter that the parties being sued were members of the executive board, who have overall responsibility for health and safety. They were all members of the club, and members cannot sue each other.
It is interesting to note that in England this case may have been decided differently. The 1997 case of Grice v The Stourport Tennis, Hockey and Squash Club saw the Court of Appeal find in favour of an injured plaintiff where the Grounds and Premises Committee had specific responsibility for health and safety and was obliged to appoint a full time steward for this purpose. Court of Appeal cases are persuasive in Scotland, and this is one of the relatively rare occasions where a Scottish judge has refused to follow English authority.
This means in practice that the status of Scottish club members vis-à-vis each other protects them from liability. If Mr Taylor had not been a member of the club, he would have been able to sue its members for his personal injuries. This raised the question: given that this is the position, what steps can you take, as a member, to protect yourself against the risks posed by other members?
The first obvious answer is to be involved in ensuring that the club avoids subjecting its members to risks. This might be reporting known issues and keeping in review processes for preventing risks (e.g. risk assessment, knowledge sharing, safety training, use of etiquette, near miss reporting, etc.).
Having said this, no matter how carefully the risks are managed there will still be instances where accidents do happen. As any golfer knows, the ball does not always go where intended! Other clubs are formed to allow members to share interests in activities that are far more dangerous than golf.
In this regard, and given the decision in Taylor, the most effective way for a club member to protect against the personal financial impact of injury is to ensure that personal accident cover is in place.Clubs normally have insurance and it is worth checking whether personal accident cover is included for members within this, and the level of cover.
If it is not, or the level of cover is not sufficient, then it could be worth using the club governance methods to have this reconsidered. An alternative would be to take out special golf insurance for individuals.
There is some suggestion in the case that if Mr Taylor had argued that legal duties were owed to him independently of membership then he might have succeeded. It is not entirely clear, however, what this means and whether it could ever be strong enough to overturn what is a well-established rule of law. The case may yet be the subject of an appeal, and so further consideration of this point may be forthcoming.
In the meantime, personal accident cover provides the necessary peace of mind, whether provided via your club or directly. Check what cover you have available and consider whether it meets your requirements.