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Who is responsible for a golf cart accident?

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.

What About Insurance?

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.

What Makes A Golf Cart Street Legal?

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”:

  • The cart must have headlights and taillights; if it does not have these, it can only be driven during daylight.
  • It should have turn signals and rearview mirrors.
  • Drivers should be at least 16 years old and possess a valid driver’s license.
  • Drivers also have to carry liability insurance.
  • The golf cart should have its own VIN number and be properly registered at the DMV, with a North Carolina license plate and inspection sticker.

Do Golf Carts Tip Over?

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:

  • People falling out or jumping off the cart. This is the most common reason that people get hurt with golf carts. Remember that they do not have seatbelts like a car, so if you’re a passenger, you should keep all your limbs inside the vehicle and hold onto the frame or seat if possible. If you’re the driver, ensure your passengers follow these safety measures. Never let anyone ride hanging onto the outside of the cart or with their feet dangling out of it. (This also reduces the risk of having a person’s foot run over by the cart, which is a more common problem than you’d think.)
  • Children riding on carts. Kids are especially likely to fall off or get injured on a golf cart. If at all possible, avoid letting children ride in the cart. If it can’t be avoided, try to place the child in the middle, between two adults, to reduce the risk of them falling or climbing out of the cart while it’s moving.
  • Distracted driving. You should consider driving a cart to be the same as driving a car – don’t text or stare at your phone or eat food while doing it. Sometimes people think they can do these things in a golf cart because it’s slower than a car. That’s true, but accidents can still lead to injuries or even death, so put your phone away and focus on your driving. Remember that while golf carts don’t go as fast as cars, they also lack most of the basic safety features that cars have, like seat belts, airbags, and strong roll cages.
  • Other drivers are not paying attention to golf carts. If you drive on or near a road, keep an eye out for other vehicles – because they may not notice you. Sometimes drivers of passenger vehicles don’t think they need to worry about golf carts, and failing to pay attention to them can lead to accidents.
  • Racing or driving carelessly on a golf cart. In some situations, accidents occur because two or more golfers thought it would be fun to race their golf carts, turn wheelies on the course, or otherwise horse around. Driving a cart should be taken as a serious responsibility. If you want to race your friends, try a video game.
  • Overloading the cart. We mentioned this earlier when talking about tip-overs, but it also increases the risk of other kinds of accidents. When there is too much weight on board, braking may be more difficult, increasing the risk of a crash. Your cart should come with specific weight requirements, and you should follow them. If necessary, you can make two trips to get everyone where they need to go.
  • Driving under the influence. Again, some people don’t think it counts as drinking and driving if they’re driving a golf cart. It does, and you can be ticketed if you’re driving on the road. But you can also get in an accident. If you’ve had too much to drink, your reaction time decreases, making it more likely you could crash. When you want to enjoy some drinks on the green, make sure you have a designated driver.

Is It Legal To Drive A Golf Cart In A Neighborhood?

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.

Do You Need To Report A Golf Cart Accident To The Police?

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.

Do Golf Carts Have Titles?

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.

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