It is well into summer now and millions of men and women will be out on the golf course trying to beat par or improve their golf game by a stroke or two. While golfers are on the course, I doubt if many are concerned with a lurking danger that can ruin an otherwise great day (and I am not talking about a lot of bogeys). The danger can be found in that wonderful invention, the golf cart.

There have been reports in industry circles about the rise of golf cart accidents. People have been killed or seriously injured after being hit by a golf cart. A good friend of ours had her shoulder shattered when she was hit by a golf cart while on the course. Now, golf carts are supposed to be safe vehicles, even as we drive them without much concern all over the golf course (and off the golf path). There are not many (if any) regulations on the safety or use of the carts, so accidents and resulting injuries are going to occur. The questions then arise: who is responsible and who is going to pay for the injury claims (and property damage claims) if any?

Suppose the golf course owner is held responsible. Presumably, the owner has a general liability policy or a specialized golf course policy to cover liability claims. The standard commercial general liability coverage form would respond to any liability claim arising out of the ownership or use of a golf cart. An insurer might dispute coverage by asserting that the golf cart is an auto since it is a land motor vehicle. However, the counter assertion that the golf cart is mobile equipment (and so, covered under the general liability form) since it is designed for use principally off public roads, is a more reasonable interpretation.

But, what if the course owner makes alcoholic beverages available to golfers at certain holes? If the players imbibe too much and start driving the carts like Indy 500 drivers, who is going to be held responsible when that innocent golfer in the next fairway gets hit? Again, presumably the course owner has a general liability policy, but most if not all standard forms have a liquor liability exclusion that would prevent coverage for injuries resulting from the selling or furnishing of alcoholic beverages. Of course, the exclusion applies only if the named insured is in the business of selling or serving or furnishing alcoholic beverages, so a solid case can be made that this does not accurately describe a golf course.

But what if the individual driver of the golf cart is held responsible? That driver will no doubt look to his homeowners policy or even his personal auto policy for protection.

The standard homeowners policy does exclude coverage for motor vehicle liability, and a motor vehicle is defined as a self-propelled land vehicle, which would include a golf cart. However, the policy then declares that the exclusion does not apply to a motor vehicle designed for recreational use off public roads and not owned by an insured (the exception also applies to a motorized golf cart that is owned by an insured, under certain conditions). So, the homeowners policy will offer coverage for the insured if he or she inadvertently runs over a fellow golfer and causes some bodily injury.

(As an aside, if the insured has been drinking a few too many beers and has his or her driving ability impaired, that most probably is not going to change the accident or occurrence into an intentional act, thereby preventing coverage. Also, if the insured lets his children drive the golf cart and they run into another golfer, the homeowners policy is still applicable.)

The personal auto policy addresses golf cart liability coverage in a different manner. The liability insuring agreement applies for the ownership or use of any auto. But auto is not a defined term in the standard personal auto policy, so this begs the question as to whether the insured would have coverage for a golf cart accident since a case can be made that a golf cart is not actually an auto. The policy does go on to exclude liability coverage for the ownership or use of any vehicle designed mainly for use off public roads, but then states that the exclusion does not apply to any nonowned golf cart.

(Golf carts owned by the insured can be covered through the use of an endorsement to the personal auto policy. For example, ISO offers the miscellaneous type vehicle endorsement, PP 03 23, that provides liability coverage and physical damage coverage for any miscellaneous type vehicle shown in the schedule). So, the issue of coverage under the personal auto policy for a golf cart accident would seem to hinge on weighing the insuring agreement language against the exception to the exclusion.

For informational purposes, there is a case from Florida wherein the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District, focused on whether the insured’s auto policy applied to the insured’s use of a rented golf cart. The insurer argued that a golf cart is not ordinarily thought of as an automobile so there was no coverage. The court said the term “auto” was not defined in the policy and this, coupled with language in an exclusionary clause pertaining to any motorized motor vehicle having less than four wheels, created an ambiguity that meant the policy would be construed against the insurer to cover a claim arising out of the operation of the rented golf cart. This case is Fireman’s Fund Insurance Companies v. Pearl, 540 So.2d 883 (1989). (Of course since the current standard personal auto policy provides liability coverage for the use of any nonowned golf cart, there is no longer any reason for this issue to be in doubt.)

In my opinion, the intent is there in both the homeowners policy and the personal auto policy to offer coverage for a golf cart accident. The personal auto policy insurer would most probably prefer to have the coverage under the homeowners policy, and the homeowners insurer would prefer the opposite. If the insured has both coverages with the same insurer, that issue would not be a problem.

The bottom line is that insureds do have coverage for golf cart accidents. So, our fellow golfers should go out and work on that golf game and not worry about whether they are at risk while driving uninsured motor vehicles—unless they want to use that as an excuse for shooting 20 or 30 over par.