Imagine going to a sporting event and seeing a 200-pound engine flying at you at over 200 miles per hour – quick what would you do? (I say duck and call Morgan and Morgan). The recent injuries to fans watching a race at Daytona last weekend have led at least three fans to hiring an attorney (they actually hired Morgan and Morgan). Here is an overview of why they may have a case and what defense may be used to counter a lawsuit.
The fans that were injured will likely sue NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation (ISC)(who owns Daytona International Speedway) for negligence. The theory of negligence is based on the fact that the defendants (NASCAR and ISC) owe a duty of care to the fans that come watch their events.
For the fans suing to actually win in court, they would have to prove that the defendants were negligent in some aspect of protecting the fans from injuries. An example would be to prove the fencing NASCAR uses between the track and the seats is not strong enough to protect fans from flying debris (or in this case an engine). Proving that the fencing was not strong enough is likely not enough to prevail in court however. The fans would have to prove NASCAR knew the fencing was not strong enough and could lead to injuries to fans but failed to do anything about it.
In addition, NASCAR tickets, like many other major sporting event tickets, contain a disclaimer on the back. The disclaimer on the back of the Daytona tickets read:
“The holder of this ticket expressly assumes all risk incident to the event, whether occurring prior to, during or subsequent to the actual event, and agrees that all participants, sanctioning bodies, and all employees, agents, officers, and directors of Daytona International Speedway, its affiliates and subsidiaries, are hereby released from any and all claims arising from the event, including claims of negligence.”
The theory these disclaimers are based on is ‘assumption of risk’ – meaning fans are aware of the inherent dangers of attending a sporting event and assume the risk of injury. The disclaimer is probably strong enough to hold up in court but the issue is whether NASCAR is willing to gamble on that. You are never guaranteed to win going to court and although NASCAR requires tracks to hold $50 million of insurance coverage for claims like this one, juries are unpredictable and if they award lets say, $55 million, then NASCAR is $5 million in the hole.
Because of the risk of losing, NASCAR and ISC may end up settling in this case. Settling would be smart, not only to protect themselves from greater financial loss in this case, but also from a public relations perspective. NASCAR doesn’t want a long drawn out trial highlighting the dangers of going to watch one of their races.