Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood
September 6, 2009
Poor, poor Osgood's car.
That is it featured in the photo taken minutes after his back window was shattered by an errant golf ball that sailed off the Jackson Park Golf Course on the South Side as he was driving north on South Cornell Avenue. The impact startled Osgood and sent glass spilling across the back seat and into the fur of his fine dog Bao, who had been peacefully napping there."I thought at first it might have been a rock someone threw at the car, and then I saw the golf ball. Bao was traumatized for a few minutes," said Osgood, describing how he had pulled off to the side of the road to inspect the damage and, naturally, take photos.
"It's just one of the hazards of urban life," he said with his usual aplomb.
His was not the first car window to have been shattered by a golf ball, and it surely won't be the last. One particularly dangerous place for cars is near the ninth tee at the Sidney Marovitz Golf Course in Lincoln Park (ever Waveland to those of us of a certain age), one of the six courses operated by the Chicago Park District.
One recent afternoon there, I watched three of 18 tee shots make their way off the course, though none did any damage to cars or people.
The employees at area golf courses are, understandably, reluctant to discuss on the record the matter of golf ball damage. They really have little to fear.
"As a general rule, the Chicago Park District, or any other park district, would not be legally liable if an errant shot flies off its golf course and hits a car window," says Jim Wascher, an attorney with Friedman & Holtz, who concentrates his practice in representation of park districts and in civil litigation and appeals. "Since it is common knowledge that the average golfer does not always hit the ball straight, and that golf balls therefore often wind up either in the rough or even off the course entirely, courts are reluctant to hold a golf course owner responsible for personal injuries or property damage that may result from a golfer's bad shot. In addition, depending on the specific facts of the case, a park district also might have statutory immunity from liability for any damage caused by a mis-hit golf ball coming from its course.
"Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and there may be cases in which a court might rule that a park district has a legal duty to reduce the likelihood of a ball leaving its golf course at a particular location. The owner of the car with the smashed window also could make a claim against the golfer who hit the shot."
When informed of this, long after he had had the window replaced at a cost of $800, which his insurance covered, Osgood said, "I never thought of that. I guess it's too late now, but I'll remember that if it ever happens again."