Protecting Golfers from Wasps Is Part of a Golf Course’s ‘Duty,’ Rules California Court

The face of a common wasp. Image: Wikipedia

A California woman who sued a golf course after she nearly died from being attacked by wasps on the greens had some success this week. In an appeal, a court has ruled that property owners, including golf courses, have a “duty” to protect patrons from dangerous insects on their property.

In July 2013, Carolyn Staats was taking a private golf lesson at Vintner’s Golf Club in Napa Valley. While teeing up at the fifth hole, she was suddenly swarmed by dozens of yellow jackets—a predatory social wasp that has black and yellow stripes and is really nasty.

Getting attacked by wasps is no fun in any circumstance, but this was a particularly horrible case. Staats was stung more than 50 times, missed more than a month of work, and was “within 15 seconds of dying,” according to a paramedic who treated her at the scene, the court record shows.

Staats—who is now deathly allergic to the wasps and has to carry a cache of EpiPens everywhere she goes—sued the golf course for “general negligence and premises liability.” The trial court that first heard her case threw it out, claiming that protecting golfers from stinging insects management didn’t know were there goes beyond the scope of maintaining a “reasonably safe” property. (The day after the attack, it took an exterminator 15 minutes to find the tiny nest, which was hidden under a lump of grass.)

But in the appeal, the judges ruled that protecting folks from deadly insect stings falls under the scope of a reasonable expectation of safety.

“Golf course operators are not exempted from exercising reasonable care to protect their patrons against the foreseeable risk posed by yellow jacket nests on their premises,” stated the decision.

The case will now go forward to determine whether or not the club did everything that was reasonably expected to protect patrons. But it’s now been formally established in the state of California: if you own a golf course, you should probably do a regular sweep for wasps.

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