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Golf club must defend negligence claim over yellow jacket attack

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Golf club must defend negligence claim over yellow jacket attack

A California appeals court reinstated general negligence and premises liability charges against a golf club filed by a golfer who nearly died from a yellow jacket attack while taking a lesson.

In July 2013, Carolyn Staats was preparing to take a shot on the fairway of the fifth hole at the Vintner’s Golf Club in Yountville, California, when a swarm of yellow jackets attacked her, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the California Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Carolyn Staats v. Vintner’s Golf Club L.L.C.

She and her instructor ran about 150 yards before the swarm stopped pursuing them, according to the ruling.

Ms. Staats, who was stung more than 50 times, began to lose consciousness and was “within fifteen seconds” of dying when paramedics from a nearby fire station administered a shot that saved her, according to the ruling. 

Ms. Staats, who experienced redness, welts and swelling all over her body, spent the night in a hospital’s intensive care unit and missed more than five weeks of work.

The attack left her highly allergic to yellow jacket stings and she must now be given three injections per month and carry multiple epinephrine pens, according to the ruling.

Ms. Staats filed suit in state court, in Napa, California, which granted the club summary judgment dismissing the case. The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge state appeals court panel, which held the golf course was responsible for its patrons’ safety.

“Those who own or occupy property have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonable safe condition,” said the ruling.

“The evidence here supports the conclusion that it was reasonably foreseeable that yellow jackets in an underground nest on the premises would form a swarm and attack a nearby golfer,” said the ruling, adding Ms. Staats submitted an entomologist’s declaration that yellow jackets are prevalent in the area.

A trial court should determine what actions the club should have taken to minimize the risk, what actions it took and whether any failure in it its duties led to Ms. Staats’ injuries, the appeals court ruled.

“We hold only that golf course operators are not exempted from exercising reasonable care to protect their patrons against the foreseeable risk posed by yellow Jackson yellow jackets on their premises,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.