Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The attorney for three NASCAR fans injured last weekend during a race the day before the Daytona 500 says they are exploring a possible lawsuit, but some experts say they could face tough obstacles in winning damages.
Matt Morgan, the Orlando-based lawyer for the fans, said at a news conference Tuesday than any suit would focus on the safety fence used along the track at Daytona International Speedway. He said he hopes to reach a settlement with NASCAR to avoid a lawsuit.
More than 30 people were injured last Saturday after a horrific wreck in a second-tier NASCAR series race sent chunks of debris, including a heavy tire, into the stands. Morgan declined to provide the identities of his clients, but said two of them were seated directly in front of the crash and sustained injuries ranging from a fractured fibula to abdominal swelling. All have been released from the hospital.
Some experts say there could be grounds for a lawsuit, and that courts have looked past liability waivers written on the backs of sporting event tickets. Others maintain the ticket is a legal contract that could be hard to overcome in court.
“Ultimately, I believe it would be gross negligence,” Morgan said. “We all know that when you go to a race you assume a certain amount of risk. But what people don’t assume is that a race car will come flying into the stands… That’s why they make the fences.”
Asked to comment on the fans’ retention of a law firm, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon wrote in a statement, “We are unaware of any lawsuits filed.”
Daytona International Speedway is owned by International Speedway Corp., a NASCAR sister company. Spokesman Andrew Booth said, “As per company policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Donnalynn Darling, a New York-based attorney who has been practicing personal injury law for 30 years, said there is a theory that a spectator who buys tickets to a sporting event assumes the risk of objects coming out of the field of play, such as a foul ball at a baseball game.
But she said there is also a foreseeable risk question that promoters of events also accept.
“Did the sporting event promoter take action to prevent that specific risk?” Darling asked. “In terms of this fence…it was put up to prevent people from being hurt. You have people who were not only injured by falling debris, but by the failure of the fence.”
Others say such restrictive clauses on the back of tickets are generally disfavored by Florida courts.
“If it’s just something written on the back of the ticket and not called to the attention of the person purchasing, there’s reason to believe many courts in Florida won’t hold that they consented efficiently,” said University of Florida emeritus law professor Joseph Little.
Still, Paul Huck, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said contract law could take precedence.
“A ticket to one of these events is like a contract — and its provisions limiting liability are generally enforceable,” he said. “We enter into these types of contracts on a regular basis, and we often don’t give it a second thought that we may be limiting or even giving up certain legal rights when we do so.”
Darling also said that the fence’s manufacturer at Daytona would likely be “very much responsible” because of it being foreseeable that debris could go through a fence that has holes in it.
That seems to be theory that Morgan is adopting. He referenced a 2009 crash at NASCAR’s racetrack in Talladega, Ala. in which a car that launched into the catch fence sent debris into the stands and injured several fans.
“At that point in time a group of engineers got together and they said ‘It’s time for us to manufacture a safer fence,’” Morgan said. “To my knowledge, that was done. But what we have to investigate at this point in time is what was done…If you can ever point to monetary considerations being put ahead of people, then there’s a big problem.”
Darling predicted that NASCAR would try to settle with the injured fans.
NASCAR “had an obligation to protect the fans that are so loyal, and it is bad from a public relations standpoint,” Darling said. “So they’re going to do something.”
AP Auto Racing writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.
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Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)