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Can I sue for a golf cart accident the same way I can sue for a car accident?

It’s golf season.

People use golf carts on golf courses.

People get injured using golf carts.

Sounds really weird when you put that in writing, but they’re all true statements!

People get injured in very strange, and sometime very serious (often catastrophic) ways in the use or operating of golf carts.

Do I have an explanation as to why this happens? I can put out a few theories:

1. Alcohol. Drinking on the golf course is a thing. Alcohol impairs your judgment. This impaired judgment and liquid courage to do things you normally wouldn’t can lead to disaster.

2. Inexperienced golf cart drivers. There is no driving test to operate a golf cart. Anyone can operate one on the course. It’s not like there are police officers on the golf course pulling people over for their erratic driving

3. Driving on terrain not suitable for a golf cart. Golf carts don’t really operate as a traditional off road vehicle with the large grippy tires, roll bars, or reinforced panelling. They tend to be flimsy buggies, meant to transport people and their golf clubs on relatively even terrain.

4. Speed and erratic driving. The top speed of a golf cart isn’t very fast, but it’s just fast enough to cause serious injury.  They aren’t meant for rolling hills, steep drops, or sharp turns at their top speed. Their centre of gravity isn’t the best, and they’re prone to tip over, unlike other off road vehicles which have a wider base and lower centre of gravity. They aren’t bumper cars, or dune buggies, though people tend to operate them as such.

Can you sue for a golf cart accident, the same way that you sue in a car accident?

The short answer is “No”, you cannot. That’s not to say this hasn’t been tried.

In SCL v. v State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 2017 CanLII 69241 (ON LAT), the Applicant was seriously injured when s/he was struck by a golf cart. SCL tried to claim accident benefits arising from the golf cart accident, the same way that you would claim accident benefits arising from a typical car accident. The LAT found that the golf cart that struck the applicant was not an “automobile” as defined in section 3 of the Schedule because the alleged accident did not occur on a common and public driveway. The applicant was struck by a golf cart on the driveway of a golf course. The golf cart driver left the scene after the accident. The applicant was struck as he walked toward the club house while his wife was parking their car in the parking lot. The golf cart was travelling at a high rate of speed. It was travelling down a corridor the between club house and a shed, heading toward the parking lot area. The accident did not take place on a public roadway. It took place on private property, on a private driveway at the golf course. Because of that, the applicant was not entitled to accident benefits in the same way that you would traditionally receive accident benefits in a car accident case.

Are golf carts motor vehicles under the Insurance Act?

Golf carts can be considered motor vehicles under the Insurance ActSection 1(1) of the Insurance Act defines “motor vehicles” as having the same meaning as in the Highway Traffic Act. Section 1(1) of the Highway Traffic Act includes as part of the definition of “motor vehicle”, “any other vehicle  propelled or driven otherwise than by muscular power.” Golf carts squarely fall within this part of the definition.

Do golf carts require car insurance given that they are defined as motor vehicles under the Insurance Act?

A motor vehicle requires insurance if it is to be driven on a highway.  This is set out section 2 of the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act, R.S.O.  1990, c. C.25., which prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle “on a highway unless the motor vehicle is insured under a contract of automobile insurance“.linkedin-2-300x300

So, the important thing to consider is WHERE did the accident take place? Did the accident take place on a public roadway (where insurance would be required), or did the accident take place on a private driveway on the golf course, or on the golf course itself (like a fairway or a green or a golf cart driveway between two holes)?

In this case, the accident occurred on private property in the corridor between the club house and a shed, heading toward the parking lot. The LAT found this to be a driveway, but also found that was not a common and public driveway. Quite the contrary. The driveway was intended for use by a limited population of golf course patrons and employees.

As a result, the golf cart did not require motor vehicle insurance when it  struck the applicant on the driveway of the golf course. It was not properly considered an automobile under the Insurance Act.

So, this should tell you that WHERE the accident took place is just as important as how the accident happened. Accident benefits will be available if the golf cart accident took place on a public roadway. Accident benefits will NOT be available if the accident took place on a private roadway not meant for the general public. It’s very important to know this given that the case will tip on these important facts.

How can you find out if the accident took place on a private roadway, or a public roadway?

That’s a question of fact, not a question of law. Ultimately, it will be up to the Judge or Adjudicator to make a finding of fact of whether or not the accident took place on a private roadway or a public roadway. That’s a fancy way of saying that it will be in the Judge’s hands. There will likely be a disagreement between the parties as to the classification of the roadway, but that’s what Judges and Adjudicators are for. Knowing that the case will succeed, or will fail based on that finding, it will be a hotly contested issue in a golf cart injury case.

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