Golf Ball Hazards In Florida: Legal Overview
As Floridians, some of us are lucky enough to enjoy the spaciousness and beauty of golf course views from our homes. Unfortunately, this serenity is occasionally marred by golfers seeking errant balls or by the balls themselves bouncing off our exterior walls. Is there anything we can do about these annoyances?
Golfers or Golf Balls Trespassing on Florida Property
A person who enters another person's property without permission is trespassing. Trespass is one of the oldest civil law claims. In order to claim a trespass, you must have warned the trespasser and asked them to stop, and there cannot be a valid reason for the trespasser's presence.
A trespass could be above ground or underground because a property owner's rights also extend into the air above the property and into the ground below. As an example, a person who flies a model airplane over your property or someone who shoots a gun across your property lines may be trespassing.
Exceptions to Trespassing Laws in Florida
Entry onto land without the owner's express consent or invitation might be permissible under certain circumstances. Emergencies are one of these circumstances. Police may chase suspected criminals across private land, firemen may string fire hoses, and neighbors may rescue a child from a neighbor's pool if they believe he is in jeopardy of drowning. Likewise, if someone was in a boat in a canal behind your home and the boat began to sink, the boater would be permitted to land on the closest property because of necessity. In fact, you could be liable for injuries if you turned their sinking boat away. Of course, the boater would not be permitted to pitch a tent and have a barbecue once he has landed.
Florida Property Law and Golfers
Under Florida property and real estate laws, golf course communities almost always have a section in their deed restrictions, easements, and covenants that allow golfers to retrieve their errant balls on residents’ properties. A section might read something like: "Every Lot and the Common Area is burdened with an easement permitting golf balls hit from the Club facilities to unintentionally come upon the Lot and for golfers at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner to come upon the exterior portions of the Lot to retrieve errant golf balls." It sounds complicated, but it gives golfers a legal opportunity to find and recover their errant shots, when reasonable to do so. If your Lot is fenced or walled, property documents generally require that golfers ask your permission before entry.
In short, it is likely that a golfer may enter your property to retrieve items such as golf balls (or pets) if they do so in a reasonable manner. Tearing down your fence would obviously not be considered reasonable. If your own property located on or adjacent to a golf course, you should become familiar with the applicable sections of any deed restrictions, easements, and/or covenants that apply to your property.
Who is Liable if a Golf Ball Causes Damage?
Another general concern is damage that may be done by errant golf balls. Generally speaking, the golf club, the builder, and the course designer are usually protected from liability from golf ball damage in the same documents described above. A golfers' liability clause might read like this: "All owners, by acceptance and delivery of a deed to a Lot, assume all risks associated with errant golf balls, and all Owners agree not to make any claim or institute any action against the Community Developer, the Club, the golf course designer, the builder or any other party other than the golfer who caused the property damage or personal injury, arising or resulting from any errant balls or golf clubs.” This is a long way of saying a homeowner normally assumes (takes on) the risk of damage, and although golfers may be responsible for damage, collecting can be difficult and impractical. Instead, many homeowners choose to purchase homeowner’s insurance to cover such an event.
Marauding golfers and destructive balls are rare in most communities, but figuring out what law applies can be difficult. If a problem is severe, you can seek the advice of an experienced real estate attorney in Florida. Or you can find more general information on this topic in FindLaw’s real estate law and neighbor law sections.
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