Is the Fine Print on Tickets Enough to Waive Liability for Personal Injuries at Entertainment Events?
On Saturday, February 23rd, a horrific crash occurred during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Daytona International Speedway, when driver Kyle Larson’s 32 race car went airborne, resulting in a 12-car pileup. According to news sources, at least 28 spectators were injured when the car hurtled into the fence, propelling debris through and over the catch-fence that was there to protect the crowd. Fourteen people were sent to area hospitals—two in critical condition. At the time of this writing, the two spectators critically injured spectators remain at the Halifax Health Medical Center.
I was contacted by a reporter the day after the accident. One of the questions he asked was whether or not Daytona International Speedway and its owner, International Speedway Corporation, would be exculpated from liability by the disclaimer found on the back of admission tickets.
The disclaimer states that “the holder of this ticket expressly assumes all risks incident to this event, whether occurring prior to, during, or subsequent to the actual event, and agrees that all participants, sanctioning bodies, and all speedways, agents, officers, or 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.”
Having been an amusement park accident and recreational torts injury attorney for the last three decades, I am quite familiar with the way promoters operating sports and amusement businesses will attempt to disclaim liability by means of the statement imprinted on their ticket stubs. Such disclaimers are placed on the back of admission tickets to virtually all ski resorts, hockey arenas, football and baseball stadiums, and amusements venues—as well as races.
While many defense attorneys will argue that the fine print on the disclaimers is enough to cover possible claims, each case must be evaluated independently. Invariably, defense argues that attending an extreme sporting event is inherently dangerous, and that spectators can be injured—which is allegedly why they include a written warning on the admission tickets. Often, such cases are confidentially resolved or quashed, and victims are offered a large confidential settlement prior to the filing of a public lawsuit.
From my point of view, as an attorney who has successfully breached such waivers, I would argue that disclaimers only cover normal risks, and that such exculpatory language cannot remove claims of negligence or recklessness, if the owner or operator of the attraction is deemed to have acted inappropriately. In addition, there is often a separate cause of action for product liability, which would not be waived by any such disclaimer. This can come into play if fences or barriers are not properly constructed, or are constructed with improper materials.
In the case of the Daytona crash, this seems to have been the case. The catch-fences, put in place with the express purpose of protecting spectators from flying debris or foreign objects, did not do what they were supposed to do. The same thing happened in a similar crash at the Talladega Super Speedway in Talladega, Alabama, in 2009, when a car hurtled into a catch-fence, injuring 7 people. And, in 2011, IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon was killed when his racecar went airborne and plowed into a catch-fence at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The type of catch-fence in use at Daytona International Speedway—25 feet tall, with tightly pulled cable that supposedly leaves little room for flying debris to penetrate—is the same type of fence that surrounds all NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks. NASCAR is said to be planning a review of catch-fence safety.
The amusement park accident and recreational torts injury attorneys of Reiff and Bily have been recognized by their peers as having the highest possible ratings in both legal ability and ethical standards. They are consistently recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers, and are members of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Attorneys.