I just returned from the Outer Banks of North Carolina where golf carts were being driven everywhere, often by people who appeared too young to be licensed drivers. They were operated on public roads and private parking lots and inevitably some of these vehicles will be involved in accidents.
This phenomenon also prevails in Howard County, Maryland.
This prompted me to ponder what legal requirements exist for the use and operation of such " vehicles" and equally importantly who would pay for any personal injuries that occur. A Google search shockingly gave rise to inconsistent content and made obvious the fact that every state has different rules, laws, regulations or none!
In an effort to provide some useful content in this article I confined subsequent research to Maryland and again the results of the search regarding " Golf Cart Law Maryland" provided very little help. The respondents to this inquiry included law firms, entities purporting to be golf cart specific and TV stations.
The generalized conclusion one might derive from these sources is that one cannot drive a golf cart on Maryland public roads, that one must be licensed, that one must be 16 and licensed and that one does not need to be licensed or 16 and that it is perfectly permissible to drive on public roads in golf carts.
Obviously this is highly inconsistent information and a review of the Annotated Code of Maryland is equally uninformative. There are statutory allusions to operating golf carts in Crisfield, Maryland and a few other places but nothing definitive.
So, time to invest in a call to the Maryland MVA? You bet!
Turn around time on that call under seven minutes to learn that they contend that golf carts can be driven on public roads, that no drivers license is required and that there is no minimum age to operate. Wow. I also learned that golf carts can be registered .
So.okay that leaves many perplexing issues. Let's up the befuddlement to level 10 by resolving that we don't really know if golf carts can be operated on public roads or operated by unlicensed drivers or if there is some putative advanatge to registering one's golf cart and finally that it is highly unclear what if any insurance would cover personal injuries visited upon someone by a golf cart operator.
There are a host of scenarios that one could posit for golf cart injuries. The golf cart operator could operate negligently and injure golf cart passengers. The golf cart operator could operate negligently and injure themself or pedestrians. The golf cart operator could operate negligently and injure people in other vehicles.
So who pays for these injuries? Cars and trucks are required to have liability insurance which provides at least some modest recourse to victims of car and truck accidents. But does car insurance apply to golf cart operators, if yes do they have to be listed insureds or licensed operators?
Time to call Geico with some questions about my policy. First the irritating computer interface which offers me auto, motorcycle, homeowners, renters atv and other insurances, none of which include golf carts.
Then a friendly live human who explains that Geico has a partner company that does insure golf carts as sort of ATVs. I ask if my homeowners or auto policy cover my negligent golf cart behavior and this person is hesitant to stake out a position. We determine probably not but then I complicate matters with a story about a recovery made in a case in 2004 when an ATV operator struck and injured my client on a public road in Frederick County.
That case ultimately was paid from a homeowners policy. So clearly some homeowners policies will pay for negligent operators of ATVs which Geico regards as being of the same ilk as golf carts.
So lets examine the scenarios mentioned a few paragraphs ago.
1). Negligent golf cart operator injures his passengers. This seems like a scenario where absent a vehicle specific policy the best one can hope for is tapping into the operators homeowners or renters liability policy. This might be even more applicable if the injuries take place on the operator's premises. What if he operator has no homeowners, renters or golf cart insurance?
Certainly a crafty lawyer could try and fashion a remedy from auto liability insurance or absent all insurance for the driver perhaps uninsured motorist coverage held by the victims. One senses that the road to fair compensation will be long and perilous.
2). Golf cart injures pedestrians. This scenario seems tailor made for uninsured motorist coverage.That is if the injured pedestrian has their own auto policy.
3). Golf cart negligently injures passengers in another vehicle.This too seems to fit unisured coverage but one suspects that the uninsured motorist carriers will be initially resistant.
Obviously, more legal and insurance research is in order before definitively answering who pays in different states and circumstances but the bottom-line, go to the trouble of getting golf cart insurance if you intend that your family drive around in one.