A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that a golfer who rents a golf cart has an obligation to refrain from letting an incompetent operator use the cart.
In McKeown v. American Golf Corp., the plaintiff, McKeown, was severely injured by the defendant’s leased golf cart, driven by his elderly father-in-law, who was alleged be an “incompetent operator,” largely due to his inexperience with golf carts. The defendant, Capavanni, along with Robinson, the Plaintiff, and another golfer were playing golf at the Beaver Brook Country Club. Capavanni rented a golf cart from American Golf Corporation (AGC) and signed a rental agreement, assuming all the risks associated with the cart’s use and promising not to permit its operation by a person unfamiliar with the cart’s proper use. Later that day, Robinson started driving the cart and ended up injuring the Plaintiff’s leg by pinning the Plaintiff between his cart and Capavanni’s cart. Robinson stated that an unsecured rangefinder that fell under the brake pedal prevented him from stopping the golf cart.
Plaintiff sued Capavanni, Robinson, and AGC. The trial court dismissed the case against AGC and Capavanni. The appeals court found that in dismissing the case against Capavanni (the renter) the trial court incorrectly applied the theory of “negligent entrustment.” The appellate court explained that, under common law, a person has a duty to use reasonable care when entrusting someone with a device capable of causing injuries (like a vehicle or golf cart), even where no employment relationship exists between the two parties.
Accordingly, the appeals court found that it was for a jury to decide whether it was foreseeable that the placement of the unsecured rangefinder could lead to its falling to the operator’s feet where it could cause issues with the operation of the golf cart’s foot pedals. The appeals court also found that with or without the rental agreement, the renter had a common law obligation to refrain from entrusting the golf cart to an incompetent operator. Thus, the appeals court reinstated the case and sent it back to the trial court for further proceedings.
Contact Powell & Roman, LLC if you need a lawyer.