The Supreme Judicial Court has reversed a judgment awarding $100,000 in property damage and a staggering $3.5 million for emotional distress caused by golf balls striking the home a Massachusetts couple.
In its decision, the court wrote,
After purchasing a home next to a golf course in a subdivision subject to various covenants and restrictions regarding the operation of the golf course, the plaintiffs, Erik and Athina Tenczar, sued the golf course, Indian Pond Country Club, Inc. (Indian Pond), in trespass when their home was hit by errant golf balls. The jury awarded them $100,000 for property damage and $3.4 million in emotional distress damages. The court also entered an injunction forbidding operation of the course in a manner that allows golf balls on the property. We conclude that the trial judge erred when he did not interpret the documents creating the covenants and restrictions as a whole and in light of attendant circumstances. When read as a whole, the documents provide that the plaintiffs’ home was subject to an easement allowing for the “reasonable and efficient operation” of a golf course in a “customary and usual manner.” As the jury were not instructed accordingly, and the failure to give the instruction was prejudicial, the verdict must be reversed and the injunction lifted. We decline, however, to direct a verdict in the defendant’s favor, as we cannot decide as a matter of law that the operation of the fifteenth hole and the number of errant shots hitting the plaintiffs’ home was reasonable. With golf, some errant shots, way off line, are inevitable, but a predictable pattern of errant shots that arise from unreasonable golf course operation is not. In the instant case, a properly instructed jury are required to resolve whether the operation of the fifteenth hole, including the number of errant shots hitting the plaintiffs’ home, was reasonable.