Learn about the $5 million lawsuit of a home that was blasted with golf balls
The story of the Tenczar family, who sued a country club and won nearly $5 million after too many golf balls damaged their home, struck a chord with golf week readers.
Several were quick to point out that my comparison to McDonald’s infamous hot coffee trial was suspect at best and suggested I watch the documentary “Hot Coffee.”
Steven Gelfman, a Missouri-based attorney, e-mailed the following: “I understand the perception of trial attorneys, personal injury cases, and issues like the one you’ve been talking about, but what most people don’t understand is that there are real disputes that for some reason couldn’t be resolved/settled between the parties and then only 12 jurors, who are chosen at random , listen to the evidence and make a decision based on the evidence and the law.
He added: “We may not have a perfect civil system, but I assure you it is the best system in the world where two parties who have a dispute can have 12 people independent of their community to listen to the evidence. , follow the law and make a decision.”
Next, I heard from Bob Galvin, the Duxbury, Mass., attorney for the Tenczar family who filed a lawsuit against Indian Pond Country Club in Kingston, Mass. , 3,000 square foot home in Indian Pond Estates on the South Shore for $750,000 in April 2017.
Galvin called the article “fair and balanced,” but he also wanted to give some perspective that I may have missed when expressing my opinion that I had trouble feeling sorry for his client.
“It was the Tenczars’ first home,” Galvin wrote. “The land was developed and laid out on a plan of subdivision prior to the design and construction of the golf course and the current principal/owner of the entity owning the land is also the principal of the entity that developed the land. Before my clients purchased the house from the builder, according to the builder, a bullet had shattered a window, and the builder was advised that this was an isolated issue by the land owner and that he would not would happen again.
“In Massachusetts, under present law, to the extent that the ordinary use of a golf course requires land beyond the boundary of the course to accommodate the displacement of errant shots, it is the responsibility of the golf course to acquire either the royalty in the additional land itself, or the right to use the additional land for this purpose.The principle applies regardless of whether the course or the house existed first.
He continued: “The (15th) hole was designed for a straight tee shot with a generous fairway just past the tee boxes. In fact, the course’s website provided a description of the hole that encouraged players to try to cut the corner above a sand trap and reach another area that is much closer to home. Tenczar and put everything in play from stray balls. In this case, the Tenczars repeatedly asked the course owner for help before hiring a lawyer or taking legal action. They even obtained a proposal to install a net on their ground and a second near the start. The course owner refused to consent to either and continued to ignore them. Their home is located lower than the tee, so no matter how high the net is set up (even at 80 feet for example), a ball can still be easily hit over the net from the area of the tee which is hidden from view. view from their yard. The family has (had to) replace 26 windows, all of the siding on both sides (which isn’t just dented – there are golf ball-sized holes), and no part of their yard is damaged. was safe since it was all in play with only a slightly errant hit (a pull or a hook) given people cut the corner of the dogleg hole. The course has installed a new tee further back but uses a temporary tee which is located next to their home, eliminating all but a deliberate shot on their home (which we know has never happened).
“The owner of the land never reserved an easement in the part of his land where the yard and the house were built, although he had every opportunity to do so. At trial, he and his lawyer explained exactly what one would expect that a person could not buy a house next to a golf course and then complain about it; however, that’s exactly why an easement or license is reserved in course communities – and it wasn’t here.
“Damian Pascuzzo, the architect of the golf course, was as honest as he could be and, although he denied there was a flaw in its original layout, he did not dispute that 651 Golf balls were a problem. I called in (golf course architect) Michael Johnstone who, unlike Pascuzzo, visited the course and was able to clearly see the problem in person.
In his email response, Galvin included a letter from Johnstone dated October 14, 2019 in which he reported the following findings: “The unique conditions here with a tee at a higher elevation than home, players choosing to cut the corner of the dogleg just in front of the Tenczar’s house and the general visual appeal of the sloping fairway came together in a perfect storm to place the Tenczar’s house in a very dangerous position.
His conclusion: “I propose the 15and hole at Indian Pond Country Club is to be closed immediately or temporarily shortened to a par 3 hole with temporary tees located parallel to or beyond the Tenczar’s house in the fairway.
Galvin went on to say: ‘The amount of damages for mental distress is significant in this case and I am not aware of the jury’s deliberations, but I assume they recognized that this young couple was fundamentally incapable of safely use their yard, patio, or even sit safely in their own home for 4.5 years. The jury and the judge hear them testify sincerely and honestly about their feelings and their mental state. They are a wonderful, friendly couple who literally begged the course to help them because only the course could solve the problem by erecting a barrier at the tee, changing the location of the tee or changing the hole – all of which they refused to To do. even if the impact and the security problem were well known.
“It was definitely not about the money, we didn’t sue for $5 million. We didn’t even quantify or ask for a specific number for the damage caused by mental distress, only property damage. We simply asked a Plymouth County jury who heard the evidence to award them what they felt was fair and just and they came back with $3.5 million (with legal interest, that’s is 4.9 million dollars) After the trial, the court asked the judge to reduce the verdict about 2 months later.The judge who heard all the evidence refused to substitute his judgment for that of the jury which I suspect because he also heard the evidence and how sincere this family was in explaining the impacts to them.
In March, lawyers for the country club filed a notice saying it would seek to appeal the case.
“We’re optimistic on appeal given the evidence that an appellate court will see it the same way the jury and then the judge would,” Galvin said.
In a follow-up email, Galvin wrote, “I think the most important thing in all of this is to remember that this family just wanted to be safe in their home and in their yard – no more, no less.
“They asked for help knowing that the only real solution could come from the course owner and he was largely indifferent to their situation for 4 years. There was no easement or agreement that allowed stray balls from the golf course to fly into or over the part of the yard where their home was built. If there were, there would be no liability to the golf course.
“Yes, there were some really modest measures implemented, but only after a lawsuit was filed. These modest measures proved ineffective against this truly dangerous condition where someone could easily have been seriously injured or killed by flying golf balls hit from the tee on the 15thand hole. The Tenczars were candid in their explanation of the impact on them of living like this and having three young children and I am convinced that was the most important factor for which the jury awarded them the amount of money they did.
“I suspect this will make those involved in golf courses or other types of recreational facilities sit up and wonder if their use has any adverse effects that could be remedied at little cost before they don’t escalate into litigation.
“The situation was easily remedied with a few quick changes to the tee hole, which is all we asked for at the start. The price held until it was clear that this obligation could no longer be avoided and that it was ordered by the court. Come to think of it, it should never have come to this.