Sacramento Golf Cart Accident Lawyer
Golf carts are not limited to the golf course anymore. These inexpensive and easily maintained vehicles are showing up in airports, malls, retirement and gated communities, college campuses, train stations and on the beach. In some areas, golf carts are an increasingly common form of transportation on low-speed roadways. According to manufacturers, up to 60 percent of golf carts are sold for use off the course. However, golf carts are not held to the same safety standard as full-size vehicles, leading to an increased incidence of injuries and, in some cases, death. Let’s take a look at the types of golf carts, accident statistics, injuries, safety measures, and liability.
In 2015, the last year for which comprehensive data is available, 18,000 people were taken to emergency rooms nationwide for treatment due to golf cart injuries. Of those injured, over 50 percent were hurt due to ejection from the golf cart, and 40 percent were children under 16 years of age. Seventy-five percent of the accidents were on golf courses with the remaining in other areas of common usage including roadways. Each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the number of people injured increased by approximately 130 percent. The number of deaths due to golf cart accidents averages out to one person every week in the United States, according to a representative of Technology Associates, a firm that provides accident reconstruction for clients.Types of Golf Carts
Golf carts are either gasoline or electric-powered. The electric carts are most commonly used on the golf course today for two reasons. They are quiet and don’t disturb players and can be charged using an electrical outlet without the need for fuel. Electric carts can travel 20 miles before requiring another charge. Currently, some manufacturers are using solar panels affixed to the cart to recharge the battery. Gasoline-powered carts use fuel to run just like most automobiles. One big difference is that when the golf cart stops, the engine turns off and reboots when you place your foot on the accelerator. This makes the carts quieter when used on the greens or on roads and more environmentally friendly.Golf Carts Vs. Low-Speed Vehicles
There are differences between standard golf carts and low-speed vehicles (LSV). The main difference lies in the maximum speed the vehicle can reach along with differences in safety requirements and the need to meet federal standards.
Golf carts in California can be used on the greens or on some roads under the authority of California Vehicle Code 21115. In order for a road to be designated as one allowing mixed automotive and golf cart use, it must be within one mile of the course or in a community that offers residents golfing facilities. Municipalities control the choice about whether to designate certain roads golf cart friendly. The carts themselves are required to:
- Weigh a maximum of 1,300 pounds when empty
- Carry the driver and one passenger
- Use three wheels
- Reach a speed of 15 up to 20 mph
- If the carts are used on the roads for short distances or traveling to and from the golf course and the parking area or a player’s home in golfing communities, they must have:
- Safety glaze on the windshield
- A mirror and a horn
- A headlamp, stop lights and tail lamps
- Reflectors on the sides and front of the cart
- Front and rear turn signals
- Windshield wipers
- A California emissions sticker, if the golf cart is powered by gasoline
- The carts do not need to meet federal safety standards
Low-speed vehicles differ from golf carts in some obvious ways, the least of which is the speed the unit can attain. Generally, LSVs must be capable of reaching a speed of at least 25 mph. In California, LSVs are only allowed on roads with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph or less. Other requirements for LSVs are:
- LSVs must have four wheels.
- Their weight must be no more than 3,000 pounds, including cargo, passengers, fluids and the weight of the vehicle.
- An LSV must have a vehicle identification number or VIN like those of motor vehicles.
- In California, the LSV must meet the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) like cars and light trucks without which it would be impossible to obtain a registration.
- The LSV must have a registration issued by the state.
- The driver of the LSV must have a state-issued operator’s license.
- The LSV must be covered by insurance.
When golf carts are modified to be able to reach a higher speed, they are called aftermarket modified carts. The carts come from a variety of sources including golf course rental companies. After modification, the carts are sold to private individuals or used as commercial vehicles. If the modified carts can reach speeds exceeding 25 mph, they too must meet FMVSS.
Modifications are sometimes made without adherence to basic standards expected of a cart in a specific class. If someone is injured due to such modifications, an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to file a claim against the owner of the cart. Further, if the person/company who modifies the existing golf cart to increase its attainable speed fails to notify the owner that the work could lead to a potentially more hazardous vehicle, they may also be held liable for damages.Ejection Accidents
When low-speed vehicles and golf carts make a sharp turn, usually to the left, the passengers in the vehicle can be ejected. This is known as an ejection accident. One reason this happens is that the lateral acceleration increases when the turn is undertaken. Speed is a factor in accidents where someone is thrown from a golf cart, so vehicles capable of reaching higher speeds increase the risk of ejection.
In the video below, Inside Edition reports on the popularity of golf carts and the potential for suffering serious injuries if not driven carefully.Hand-Held Hip Restraint
Since golf carts are not outfitted with seat belts, the occupant relies on a hand-held hip restraint to prevent being ejected. This is a bar on the outside of the vehicle’s seat. Drivers are not as prone to ejection since they are holding onto the steering wheel, and lean toward the center of the cart in a left turn. Since the hip restraint is both low and short, this makes it difficult for a passenger to hold on tightly enough to prevent being thrown from the cart.
Due to the mechanics described above, someone of low height and weight would find it harder to stay in the cart. For this reason, children under the age of 16 are at a higher risk of ejection since they are unable to exert enough force to hold onto the hip restraint. In addition, shorter individuals are unable to use their lower extremities to help them stay in the cart.Liability for Golf Cart Accidents
The reasons golf cart accidents happen fall into three main categories: negligence, strict liability for manufacturer defects and failure to warn. Let’s look at the specific areas of liability:
- Premises liability: When carts are used on a golf course, the owner must ensure that the greens are safe to use. Maintenance includes posting warning signs on areas with tree stumps, uneven terrain or tree roots that are exposed. Such hazards commonly cause a golf cart to flip over, expelling occupants.
- Golf cart maintenance: The owner of a golf course is obligated to maintain rented carts. If this is left undone and an accident occurs due to a lack of maintenance, the owner could be liable for the financial cost of a person’s injuries. Likewise, if a mechanic or other person who is not familiar with servicing golf carts is allowed to do so and an accident happens due to faulty maintenance, the owner is liable. In some cases, the mechanic is also responsible. In addition, if a golfer using a privately-owned cart is hurt due to lack of maintenance, the owner is liable.
- Improper instructions prior to driving: If a golfer renting a cart is not given proper instruction on how to operate it, the owner is liable if an accident happens. Likewise, the owner should be given a set of complete instructions when the cart is purchased or leased.
- Failure to warn of ejection accidents: Operators should be informed of the possibility and frequency of ejection accidents before taking the cart out onto the course.
- Manufacturer defect: Product defects can occur during all phases of product design, production, and retail sales. Design defects make the product more likely to cause harm to the consumer. Problems with golf cart restraints that fail to prevent ejection injuries could be conceived of as a design defect. Defects can also arise during the manufacturing process either due to shoddy work or due to defective parts used in this phase.
- Marketing defects: This applies to the lack of proper instruction on how to use the product as supplied by the manufacturer. It can also apply to the lack of adequate, absent or incomplete warnings about potential hazards when the product is used.
Since California operates under the doctrine of strict liability, it is necessary to prove only that the product was used in the way for which it was intended. The plaintiff needs to show that the damages were caused directly by the defective product.Safety Concerns
Safety experts have long argued that the use of seat belts is necessary on golf carts, especially those that are able to reach a higher speed such as LSVs. Arguments against this precaution have been raised by golf cart manufacturers, who claim that seat belts would restrict an occupant from jumping out of the cart if an accident was imminent.Problems With Hip Restraints
The hip restraint is located on the outside portion of the seat. This can exacerbate a tripping mechanism. This occurs most often during periods of high lateral acceleration when making a left turn. The occupant can be thrown up and over the hip restraint, causing them to be tossed headfirst onto the ground.Center Restraints
Center restraints would help the occupant avoid being ejected since they would provide more support while still letting golfers debark and enter the cart freely. This change in design, experts say, would lessen the risk of ejection accidents. Children riding in golf carts should have the option of using seat belts.Golf Cart Injuries
Fractures of the arms and shoulders are the most common ejection injuries. This is closely followed by a concussion and intracranial bleeding and subdural hematomas. The latter traumatic brain injuries require hospitalization and surgical intervention. Other injuries commonly seen are:
- Lacerations: Cuts to the face and neck are common and occur in approximately 15 percent of all accidents.
- Injuries to the soft tissue: These injuries usually happen when a golfer or other individual is struck by a golf cart. Damage often occurs in the lower extremities.
- Cervical (neck) injuries: The most common neck injuries are cervical strains and sprains, muscle-tendon damage and ligament injury.
- Legs: Lower extremity damage occurs most often in adults.
- Spinal injuries: Cervical portions of the cord are injured most frequently due to an ejection accident. This can cause paralysis and a lack of nerve function below the level of the injury. Mid and lower portions of the spine are not damaged as frequently.
Golf carts may be covered under your homeowner’s policy for basic use. Certain types of carts, as well as coverage for ejection injuries, could be nonexistent.
In such cases, buying golf cart insurance is a good idea. Some homeowner associations in gated, retirement and golfing communities may require specific insurance for golf carts. Here are the different types of insurance:
- Basic use: This includes use on your own property or on the golf course. Homeowners’ policies with a golf cart endorsement will work most of the time. However, there are situations where this form of insurance will not provide adequate coverage. For instance, ejection accidents will not always be covered, depending on your policy. This is particularly true if the golf cart is portrayed as a motor vehicle. In some golfing community consisting of homes and a golf course, a different form of coverage might be necessary.
- LSVs or speed modified carts: Speed modified carts or LSVs require auto insurance designed for golf carts. This covers street usage and may decrease if seat belts are added. The community association may require that owners obtain golf cart insurance and add the HOA as an insured party. Discounts are available so it is wise to ask an insurer before purchasing this insurance.
This video provides safety tips on how to operate a golf cart.Sacramento Golf Cart Accident Lawyer
I’m Ed Smith, a golf cart accident lawyer in Sacramento. If you have been hurt in a golf cart or LSV accident, you need the assistance an injury lawyer can provide to obtain the compensation you deserve. Call me at 916.921.6400 in the Sacramento area or (800) 404-5400 toll-free to receive friendly and free advice. You can also reach out to me by using our contact us form on my website, AutoAccident.com.
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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 11.22.19]