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Rhode Island Appellate Court Reverses Nuisance Verdict Awarded over Errant Golf Balls

Golf courses and country clubs often incorporate residential housing developments within or adjacent to the club borders. Many Rhode Island residents may desire to live along a golf course, as the easy access and social benefits of such an arrangement are desirable for golf enthusiasts and socialites alike. Houses located along an active golf course may be in the line of fire of errant golf balls, as golfers are not known to hit every shot on target. A Massachusetts court recently reversed a $5 million verdict that was awarded to a couple who had sued a golf course for nuisance based on the damage and distress caused by errant golf balls that struck the plaintiffs’ home.

According to a local news report discussing the recent appellate decision, the plaintiffs purchased a home adjacent to a Massachusetts golf course in 2017. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the course in 2021, alleging that over 600 golf balls had struck their property since the purchase, causing property damage and emotional distress. The plaintiffs claimed that the nuisance caused by the errant balls restricted the use of their property, preventing their children from safely playing in the yard. The defendant argued that the plaintiffs had no claim, as they should have expected golf balls to hit their property based on their location. A trial was held on the plaintiffs’ claim in the spring of 2022, and the jury awarded them a total of $5 million from the defendant, most of which was awarded for the plaintiff’s claims of emotional distress.

The defendant appealed the verdict to the state supreme court, arguing that the trial judge allowed the jury to be improperly instructed on the issue of an easement that the golf course owned on the plaintiffs’ property. According to the high court decision, the easement required the plaintiffs’ allowance of “the reasonable and efficient operation of a golf course” adjacent to the property. Because the jury was not instructed to determine whether the amount of intrusion into the plaintiffs’ property was “reasonable,” the court ruled that the verdict must be reversed, and the case was remanded to the lower court for a new trial. The plaintiff’s claim still may succeed eventually, but the case must go back for a new trial before another jury if it is not settled beforehand.

If you or someone you know is facing an issue with a neighboring property owner over a potential nuisance claim, damage awards may be significantly larger than simply the economic loss from the nuisance. Because of this, possible claims should not be ignored or minimized, and legal counsel should be consulted as soon as a potential claim arises. The experienced real estate attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo understand how to pursue and defend against Rhode Island nuisance claims. Not all annoying conduct can be legally defined as an actionable nuisance, and some apparently harmless or justified actions may be actionable for significant damages. Our qualified residential property attorneys can help you determine the best course of action in addressing your legal issue. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case. Reach out by phone at 401-300-4055 or through our website for a free consultation.

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