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Indiana Supreme Court Hears Golf Course Suit at IU Law School

The Indiana Supreme Court came to Bloomington Monday to hear a four-year old case which seeks to determine who’s at fault when a teenager is hurt on a golf course.

The case stems from an injury to 16-year old Cassie Pfenning, who was hit by a golf ball while riding in a beverage cart during a tournament at the Marion Elks Country Club in 2006.  Pfenning alleges her grandfather, the Elks Club, the company which owns the beverage cart and the golfer who hit the ball were negligent in not providing her advanced warning of the dangers of the course or offering adequate supervision.  On Monday, Pfenning’s lawyer, Christine Marcucilli, asked the state’s highest court to send the case back to the trial court because her client should not be considered a participant in the event, and therefore could not reasonably have been expected to know the rules, procedures and inherent risks of a golf course.

“Cassie Pfenning was not a sports participant in the usual sense of the word,” Marcucelli argued. “Therefore, defendants should not be protected by the heightened standard of duty granted to co-participants in sports. Rather, each owed her a duty of ordinary care and their liability for that breach of duty should be determined by a jury.”

Defense attorney Linda Polley argues Pfenning should be considered a participant because she was a part of the event as a whole, regardless of whether she was playing.  Lawyer James Giffin, arguing on behalf of the golf club, said being on a golf course – and even being hit by an errant shot -- does not present an unreasonable risk under Indiana law.  And Kyle Persinger, representing the estate of Pfenning’s grandfather, contended there was no reckless or negligent behavior to support a claim that Pfenning was not properly supervised.  IU Maurer School of Law Senior Lecturer Seth Lahn said it’s fine points like these that may have led the court to accept transfer of the case.

“It’s easy to see how some of the broader issues could be left indistinct.  And periodically, really the job of a state supreme court is to step in and try to bring some clarity to that,” Lahn said.

The case was heard at IU because of an ongoing program by the state’s Supreme Court to hear cases on the campuses of universities. Previously, both the Grant Superior Court and the Indiana Court of Appeals have found in favor of the defendants.

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