A Halifax couple has been awarded just over $1,600 for damage caused by “errant golf balls” after a championship-level golf course was was developed in their backyard nearly a decade after they bought their house.
The claimants, Julia and Anthony Fletcher, told a hearing in February that they bought their house in the community of Timberlea in 2007.
“At the time their backyard bordered on a large tract of wooded land to the west. There was no indication at that time that this land would eventually become a golf course, namely The Links at Brunello,” noted the Small Claims Court of Nova Scotia decision written by adjudicator Eric K. Slone.
According to the Tourism Nova Scotia website, The Links at Brunello — a 7,158-yard course with more than 40 acres of natural wetlands — is the “must-play facility for years to come.” It was designed by award-winning architect Thomas McBroom and was featured in the No. 3 spot on GolfDigest’s Best New Courses 2015 list.
The court’s decision noted that the Fletchers’ home is closest to the fairway for the fourth hole.
In 2019, a golf ball hit their back wall and cracked some siding. In July 2020, a ball flew over the house and hit their truck on the driveway, “leaving a significant dent that has not yet been repaired.”
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“The Defendant made some changes in 2021 and 2022 to the 4th hole to make it less likely that golfers’ errant shots would enter the Claimants’ property, but the problem has not completely vanished,” the decision read.
“No golfer is likely to aim their drive in the direction of the Claimants’ property, but a mis-hit shot can end up there.”
Slone said the defendant was seeking to avoid responsibility because it had designed the course “in accordance with high professional standards.” The adjudicator noted other neighbours have had similar problems, which “tend to illustrate that the Defendant is aware that errant balls are an ongoing issue.”
The adjudicator said he considered several other past case decisions, and that “not surprisingly, there has been a fair bit of litigation involving errant balls escaping the boundaries of golf courses.”
“In my opinion, absent some agreement to the contrary suggesting a conscious assumption of the risk, a homeowner living adjacent to a golf course has a right to be compensated for actual damage by golf balls escaping the course,” Slone wrote.
“Clearly the course has a duty to neighbours and no golf course can claim to be totally unaware of the risk of damage being done by an errant shot, so the harm is foreseeable.”
The adjudicator acknowledged the golf course’s lawyer “admitted that his client is concerned about the precedent that this case may set.”
“It is apparent that the risk of an escaping golf ball can be, and has been, reduced to low numbers but will never be zero,” wrote Slone.
“There is no shortage of bad golfers, and even good golfers make bad shots.”
Slone added that the risk could “probably be reduced to near zero” with larger nets, but that there is a cost associated with that and “damage to the aesthetic qualities of the course.”
“By declining to take these steps, the Defendant has made a business decision that exposes its neighbours to a small risk of injury or damage,” the decision concluded.
The Fletchers were awarded $1,044 for the damage to their vehicle, $500 to fix the siding (which Anthony Fletcher indicated he would repair himself) and $99.70 for costs. In total, the court ordered the golf course to pay the claimants $1,643.70.