2018 Ryder Cup: Spectator hit by golf ball – the legal consequences

By Dr Thilo Pachmann, Partner, Pachmann Law Firm, Zurich, Switzerland

On 28 September 2018, a tragic accident occurred at the Ryder Cup held at Le Golf National, Paris, France.

A female spectator was hit in the right eye and lost her sight on one side. The devastating strike was executed by American golfer Brooks Koepka. But what does such an incident mean for the athlete, organizer and the injured person?

As in general tort liability law, the responsibility of the individual athlete, Koepka, is determined by his fault. The “Rules of Golf” by the European Golf Association EGA play an important role in evaluating the athlete’s expected behaviour and serve as a standard.

In order to verify the actual fault, it must be clarified whether Koepka executed the shot in an appropriate manner or violated a golf rule in doing so, according to the “Rules of Golf”. It would also be indispensable to compare the teeing off with other professional golf players under the same circumstances. So far, no misconduct by Koepka is apparent, which excludes a legal liability for now.

The organizer, PGA America and Ryder Cup Europe, may be held liable based on contract, if the reasonable and necessary safety measures have not been taken for the event.

The injured spectator now argues that safety warnings on the entrance ticket and signage around the venue were missing. In addition to this, she says the safety call “Fore”, which has to be made by the golfer when teeing off in the direction of a crowd, according to the “Rules of Golf”, was not executed correctly by the organizer. According to her, the audience could not protect itself from oncoming balls. The organizer denies this vehemently and says that the call had been made several times. However, the organizer recognizes that such a call may not be heard by every spectator in a large crowd.

It should be mentioned that spectators agree to a certain inherent risk in sport, such as errant golf shots, when buying the ticket. This, however, does not justify the fact that the organizer neglects to take reasonable safety measures. By failing to ensure that every spectator hears the security call made by the athlete, the organizer can be held responsible.

As a result, the injured spectator has filed a civil lawsuit in France against the organizers of the Ryder Cup. She is suing the organizer for damages. It remains to be seen whether the organizer will take any legal recourse against Koepka due to his possible wrongful behaviour.



Dr Thilo Pachmann may be contacted by e-mail at thilo.pachmann@pachmannlaw.ch