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Bonita: Golf Balls Can Be Trespassers

In Bonita, there are many golf courses including the Bonita Golf Club and the Chula Vista Municipal Golf Course. In our law firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP we practice in estate planning. Please contact us by phone or e mail for a complimentary consultation. In the below example, neither golf club as listed above was a party that law suit.

Joyce had nothing against golf or golfers. In fact, she was a regular golfer herself and a member of two different golf clubs. But when her home in a subdivision adjoining a private golf course was continuously pelted with errant golf balls, she and a neighbor with the same predicament eventually took the matter to court and won.

The golf course began operating in the late 1980s, and Joyce moved into her home in the late 1990s. But the fact that she “came to the problem” did not prevent Joyce from winning an injunction to stop, or at least minimize, incoming golf balls and the golfers in search of them. No doubt the court was impressed by the evidence showing the extent of the problem, which went well beyond an occasional Titleist in the flower bed. Among other effects, there were five damaged window screens, one large broken window, dented siding, and a dimpled car hood (only the golf balls are supposed to have dimples). At least one wayward shot struck the house hard enough to trigger a burglar alarm. It got so bad that Joyce all but gave up on using her rear deck, and her young son was instructed to play only in the part of the yard that was shielded from the golf course by the house. The clincher piece of evidence may have been the 1,800 golf balls that Joyce had retrieved from her yard during the five years she had lived in her house.

The winning legal theory for Joyce was continuing trespass. The common conception of a trespass is of someone walking across another’s property without permission, but the concept is broader than that. A trespass is any invasion of a landowner’s interest in exclusive possession of the property. Propelling physical objects onto someone’s property regularly, frequently, and without the owner’s consent is a continuing trespass.

As for the appropriate remedy, the court in Joyce’s case offered some guidance. If the golf course operators were determined to keep the course as it was, they either would have to acquire the adjacent land, or the right to use such land, for the purpose of accommodating all of those wayward golf shots. More realistically, the defendant could solve the problem by shortening the hole that adjoined Joyce’s property, thereby removing the property from the landing area for all those bad shots. This would be somewhat burdensome for the golf club, but it was not such a hardship as could relieve the club of its obligation to end the continuing trespass and give Joyce back the “exclusive possession” of her home.

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