North Carolina is a beautiful state to play golf in, and as a result, there are many golf courses – and golf carts. These small, motorized vehicles can be handy for getting around a golf course and sometimes other areas like parks or resorts, but accidents involving these carts also result in around 15,000 injuries each year. Although golf carts are not associated with the high rates of fatalities found in larger, higher-speed vehicles, in some cases, golf cart accidents may be fatal, like a tragic 2020 crash in Holly Springs.
As with other accidents, fault depends on who caused the crash. “Who was driving?” is probably the first question an attorney will ask about your accident. If the golf cart was the only vehicle involved, in many cases, the driver was responsible (aside from some less common situations, such as a passenger grabbing the wheel). On the other hand, if the golf cart was lawfully crossing the street and a car failed to yield the right of way, striking the cart, then the car driver was most likely at fault.
However, there may also be questions about the cart’s ownership. An owner isn’t necessarily responsible for an accident that occurs when someone else is driving the cart. But, if it turns out the accident was caused by a failure to properly maintain the cart, then the owner may be liable. For example, if you were driving the cart and the brakes failed, that might cause you to crash even if you were driving carefully. If you later found out that the owner hadn’t done any maintenance on the cart in over a year, you might wonder if this situation could have been avoided. If the owner knew there was a brake problem but hadn’t gotten around to fixing it and still let you drive it without warning you, you might also argue that they were liable.
On the other hand, if the owner had the brakes fixed recently, and they suddenly stopped working while you were driving, the mechanic who fixed them might be liable for doing shoddy work.
Did the cart owner warn you about the risks of operating a golf cart? This is often a question when people rent carts from golf courses and other businesses. The owner is legally required to warn you of the risks, point out safety features, and make sure you know how to use the cart. If they gave you some paperwork to sign, at least some of it was probably a waiver saying you understood how to use the equipment safely, that you would follow the rules, and that the business wasn’t liable if you ignored them and got hurt. If, however, an employee just tossed you the keys without a second thought, then the owner may be liable for failure to warn or instruct you in the cart’s safe use.
In some cases, premises liability law also comes into the equation. Certain hazards on the golf course may lead to a crash, even if you do everything right as the driver. For example, a large pothole or other impediments on the course could lead to an accident. If this was the case, and the owner didn’t provide a proper warning or fix the issue, they may be liable.
In many cases, the parties listed above will have insurance that covers golf cart accidents. A business that rents the carts will almost certainly have some sort of liability insurance for these situations. A person who drives a cart on the streets is required to have this coverage. However, you may find that an individual driver ignored the law or wasn’t required to buy liability insurance because they weren’t driving the cart on public streets. If this is the case, you may still be able to sue the at-fault party directly.
If they do have insurance, filing a claim may also lead to difficulties. Often insurance adjusters will come up with various excuses why your claim isn’t “covered,” the most common of which is claiming the accident was your fault. North Carolina’s contributory negligence laws allow at-fault parties to avoid paying damages if the injured party, in this case, you, also shared at least a small part of the fault.
Because of this situation, it’s not uncommon to file a claim and have it rejected because the insurance adjuster thinks you were at fault. Keep in mind that an insurance company saying you are at fault in a letter isn’t the same as proving you were at fault in court. If this happens to you, take the letter to an attorney right away – they may be able to negotiate with the insurance company to get you the damages you deserve. If this doesn’t work out, they can also take the insurance company to court. However, these cases more commonly settle out of court – insurance companies don’t like to spend money on lengthy court cases, either. In many cases, if your attorney explains the various reasons you weren’t at fault and the evidence you have to support these statements, the insurance adjuster will rethink their position on paying your claim. (This is a job for an experienced attorney who is well-versed in personal injury law – we don’t recommend arguing with the insurance company yourself.)
If your claim has been denied for this or any other reason, you should seek legal advice immediately, as your attorney may be able to point out the flaws in their reasoning and negotiate to get you appropriate compensation. They can also advise you if the insurance has made an offer that is much too low for your expenses, which may include medical care, lost income if you missed work after the accident, pain and suffering, and property damage. If you haven’t filed your claim already, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice first to ensure you know what your claim should be worth.
By now, you can probably see that there are many possible parties who may be liable for a golf cart accident. Figuring out who you should file a claim with can be confusing, but an experienced lawyer may be able to help. If you believe that a golf cart driver’s negligent actions led to your injuries or that another party somehow caused a golf cart accident that left you injured, please seek a free consultation with a personal injury attorney. They can go over the details of your accident and let you know what kind of options you have for seeking compensation.
Under North Carolina law, golf carts can legally be driven on roads with a speed limit of 35 MPH or less. (If necessary, you may cross a street with a speed limit higher than 35 MPH, but you can’t drive on it.) However, the cart needs to meet several requirements to be considered “street legal”:
Yes, and this is one common cause of injuries in golf cart accidents. In fact, if you do an internet search on this topic, you’ll find a number of YouTube videos of golf carts doing exactly that. Some people find these videos funny, but if you’re hurt in such an accident, you won’t be laughing.
The issue is that these carts don’t weigh very much, but are often top-heavy, which increases the risk of tip-overs. Some situations can increase the odds further, like driving in windy conditions, overloading the cart with too many passengers/equipment, making excessively sharp turns, or driving down particularly hilly golf courses. If you can, try to avoid these situations when operating a cart.
However, tipping over is not the only thing you need to worry about. Here are some other common causes of golf cart accidents:
This depends on the neighborhood. State law says that golf carts may be driven on roads as long as the speed limit is 35 MPH or slower. But individual cities may have local laws about where you can or can’t drive golf carts or about their operation. Sometimes neighborhoods close to popular golf courses or other tourist attractions have enacted ordinances about carts because they had too many problems with people driving recklessly or noisily through the area. So it’s best to check with the particular neighborhood to see if they have any rules about it.
You are not required to do so in every situation, but you should anyway, even if no one seems to be hurt. Sometimes injuries don’t produce symptoms right away, and it’s always possible someone might want to make a claim for that or for property damage. It’s always a good idea to have a police report available if you need it.
You are not required to have one if your golf cart isn’t going to be driven on the street. However, you may want one to avoid issues if your cart is ever stolen, and all you have to prove ownership is a bill of sale. You can get a title and other necessary paperwork to drive your cart on the streets through the North Carolina DMV.
If you have questions or concerns about an injury you’ve suffered involving a golf cart, please contact Auger and Auger for a free consultation. We’ll look through the accident report and let you know your options for pursuing a claim. You can reach us online or by calling (855) 969-5671.