As a golf or tennis club is usually unincorporated and is just a collection of members, it followed that suing your own club amounted, in effect, to suing yourself and was not allowed. This was the old rule confirmed again in Murphy v Roche 1987.
A recent High Court case reviewed this old rule in somewhat unusual circumstances. The plaintiff was a member of the golf club in Cobh and was asked to help out with some woodwork carried out on the premises. He obliged but the defendant, a carpenter, lost control of a saw and it seriously damaged the plaintiff’s hand, and he sued the trustees of the club for damages.
The club, in its defence, claimed that the plaintiff was a member of the club at the time of the accident and therefore couldn’t sue his club or fellow members. However, the plaintiff argued that he was not in fact a fully paid up member of the club at the time because he had not kept up his monthly membership subscription payments.
The club maintained it was the practice to let members play on in the club or even to enter a competition, despite the fact they had not fully paid up their subscriptions.
The court looked at the constitution of the club which specifically stated that membership would be terminated if the member did not pay their fees by 31 January. The court adhered to this wording and pointed out that a final instalment of membership fees would need to be paid before 31 January and this had not occurred in this case.
The court was told the plaintiff had continued on playing in competitions for the club even after 31 January, but it gave this little consideration stating that the club was simply overlooking its own rules of membership which, in fact, were quite specific.
Finally, the court did not accept the argument that the practice of the club was to consider the plaintiff a continuing member and therefore one who was unable to sue. The club argued that its own rules had been implicitly amended but the court held that written rules cannot in any way be amended by implication.
The court awarded the plaintiff €100,000 holding the club vicariously liable. Perversely, the plaintiff was able to succeed in this case because he had neglected to pay the remainder of his yearly subscription. It remains a moot point whether the club felt inclined to renew his membership in the circumstances.
Mark McGroarty v Trustees of Cobh Golf Club High Court 28 October 2021