Litigating Golfers – Review of long-established principle that a member cannot sue a club

Ms. Justice Niamh Hyland delivered a very interesting Judgment which received a significant amount of publicity in the last week. The Judgment related to a Plaintiff who sustained a significant injury to his hand (with loss of left index finger) whilst assisting in a voluntary capacity with some building works taking place at Cobh Golf Club.

By way of background, the Plaintiff was a scratch golfer and had been a member at Cobh Golf Club since 2009.  It is well established in case law that a member of a club cannot sue their fellow members, however, Ms Justice Hyland held that the Plaintiff was not, in fact, a member at the time of the incident given that he had failed to pay his membership fees in full.

There was a lot of discussion around the case law and the implications of Club Membership for the Plaintiff given that a club has no separate legal identity from that of its members and as such a member suing the club (or the club’s trustees) was in law suing himself. Accordingly, the Constitution of the Club was examined in detail by the Court.  The Judge held that the wording of the Constitution was “crystal clear” and disregarded the fact that the Plaintiff had played in competitions for the Club after the 31st January (when membership would have been terminated for non-payment of fees) stating that “the Club was simply not applying its own rules of membership.”  Furthermore, the court also rejected the argument that the practice of the club was to treat the Plaintiff as a member and, therefore, he could not sue.

The Judge went on to find that the Defendants were vicariously liable for the accident and that the evidence established liability, awarding €100,000 in General Damages to the Plaintiff.

It remains to be seen whether an Appeal will be lodged in respect of the award for damages, however this Judgment certainly shines a light on the importance of Club Rules being followed to a “tee”.

A copy of the full Judgment can be viewed by clicking on the following link:

If you would like further information in relation to any of the above, please contact Ciara Lehane, Associate Solicitor by email to or call 021-7300200.

This article will be updated in the event of Appeal.

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