Golf is not typically thought of as a contact sport. However, errant golf shots can result in either a person being hit by a golf ball or someone’s home being damaged. Because etiquette and sportsmanship are at the heart of the sport of golf, it not very often that a golfer would engage in a physical altercation on the golf course and inflict injury on another. However, it does happen. Recently, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had before it an insurance coverage dispute involving a golfer seeking coverage under his homeowner’s policy to cover injuries he inflicted on a fellow golfer.1
The Court’s recitation of the facts was as follows:
“This case arose out of a physical fight between Leverette and Bruno Arredondo. While playing golf with a group of friends, Leverette exchanged verbal insults with Arredondo, a member of another group of golfers. At some point, Leverette grabbed Arredondo’s golf club; and the club broke into two pieces. During the ensuing physical struggle, Leverette’s friend, Derrick Austin, kicked Arredondo in the head, rendering Arredondo unconscious. Leverette then punched Arredondo repeatedly in the face. Arredondo suffered severe and permanent injuries as a result of the altercation.”2
When Arredondo sued Leverette because of severe and permanent injuries, Leverette sought to have his homeowner’s insurer defend him in the lawsuit. The insurer defended under a reservation of rights and brought a separate declaratory action against Leverette to determine coverage. The homeowner’s policy stated that the insurer has a duty to defend Leverette “[i]f a claim is made or a suit is brought against [Leverette] for damages because of ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ caused by an ‘occurrence’ to which this coverage applies. . . ”
In determining whether damages would be awarded, the Court focused its analysis on whether the injuries resulted from an accident. The term occurrence was defined in the Policy as “an accident . . . which results . . . in: . . . ‘Bodily Injury’; or . . . ‘Property damage.’” The term “accident” was not defined in the policy so that Court applied Georgia law, where an accident means “an unexpected happening rather than one occurring through intention or design.”3
As explained by the Eleventh Circuit, the personal injuries did not result from an “accident”, and therefore were not a covered occurrence under the policy:
[T]he evidence… demonstrates that the events underlying Arredondo’s complaint did not take place without Leverette’s foresight, expectation, or design. That Leverette intended to grab Arredondo’s golf club and to strike Arredondo repeatedly in the head and face is undisputed…Because Leverette acted intentionally and voluntarily when he grabbed Arredondo’s golf club and struck Arredondo, Leverette cannot show that Arredondo’s injuries resulted from ‘accidental means’ such that they would be covered under the Policy.4
The Court’s analysis focused on the fact there was an intentional attack with a golf club on another person. However, had the injuries merely been negligent, such as a golfer who hit an errant shot into another fairway which resulted in an injury to another golfer, the Court would have found a different result.
1 Meritplan Insurance Company v. Leverette, No. 13-13338, 2014 WL 104217 (11th Cir. Jan. 13, 2014).
3 Id. at 2.
4 Id. at 2.