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Are Race Tracks Liable for Car Accidents?

After being in a crash at the race track, a motorist might look to others to recover compensation. Racing, whether by a professional or amateur, is risky. Crashes and other types of accidents happen and, in many cases, damage expensive vehicles and cause bodily injuries.

Whether or not another driver or the race track is liable for these damages depends on several factors: the cause of the crash, liability waivers, assumption of risk, insurance coverage, and more. When a motorist believes a race track is responsible for the car accident, it’s important to talk with an experienced lawyer about state law and their options.

Participants Sign Liability Waivers

When someone signs up to race at a track, the ownership requires them to sign a liability waiver. The document can have any number of titles, like disclaimer, release, assumption of risk, or indemnity agreement. The purpose of the document is for the motorist to agree not to sue the track if anything bad happens—even if the track was negligent.

Here is an example of a waiver of liability from the Pole Position Raceway in Texas:

“Each of the undersigned, for himself, his personal representatives, heirs, and next of kin hereby releases, waives, discharges and covenants not to sue the promoters, participants, racing associations, sanctioning organizations or any subdivision thereof, track operators, track owners, officials, competition vehicle owners….herein referred to as ‘Releasees,’ from all liability to the undersigned for any and all loss or damage, and any claim or demands therefore on account of injury to the person or property or resulting in death of the undersigned arising out of or related to the events, whether caused by the negligence of the Releasees or otherwise.”

The document goes on to say the person who signs it assumes full responsibility for any risk of property damage, bodily injury, or death related to the event caused by the Releasee’s negligence.

A race track waiver is not small print on the back of a ticket—though there are liability waivers on the back of spectator tickets, too. It might be a one-page document, or it could be several pages. Motorists who take part in events at a track are responsible for reading the contract. If someone signs a waiver, it’s not a defense that they didn’t read or understand it.

Will a Court Uphold a Liability Waiver?

After a serious accident, a motorist might wonder if a court will uphold a liability waiver. In many cases, yes, courts have upheld liability waivers. But it depends heavily on state law. Each state has standards for when a liability waiver is valid vs. when a court can throw it out.

A few states don’t uphold liability waivers, including Louisiana, Montana, and Virginia. Twenty state courts, including Kentucky, don’t look kindly on liability waivers and implement strict standards for when they are enforceable. These states might deem a waiver unenforceable if it’s overly broad, unclear, or against public policy, or if the signee wasn’t in a position to bargain with the organization.

But 16 states have moderate standards, while 10 states have lenient standards and tend to enforce liability waivers with few exceptions. In these states, it’s more likely that a court will uphold a race track’s waiver.

It’s helpful for a motorist to consult a Kentucky car accident lawyer, like Flora Stuart of Bowling Green, after a crash to learn more about which state law governs the accident and whether a state court would likely rule a waiver is valid or unenforceable.

Implied Assumption of Risk

Separate from a written and signed liability waiver, a race track might raise an implied assumption of risk defense. If a motorist files a lawsuit against a race track and claims the business should pay for their crash-related injuries, the track might respond that the motorist knew the activity was dangerous and did it anyway.

This defense relies on the theory that the motorist knowingly and voluntarily exposed themselves to danger. A race track can argue that an amateur racer who signed up for an event knew driving vehicles at high speeds was inherently dangerous and could result in a serious crash.

Is a Track Ever Responsible for a Crash?

A race track could be held liable for car accident injuries in limited circumstances. A track’s liability waiver may be unenforceable under state law. Or it’s possible that the track’s conduct was egregious and amounted to more serious misconduct than ordinary negligence. In some cases, a liability waiver doesn’t protect the organization from liability based on gross negligence or malicious conduct—this depends on the wording of the waiver and state law.

Consider Track Insurance Coverage

Specialty insurance companies provide insurance coverage for motorsports. Racetracks, associations, car clubs, race teams, motorsport driving schools, sponsors, and other parties involved in racing purchase liability policies to cover property damage, bodily injuries, and other expenses they could be liable for. For those injured in a car accident at a race track, it means there is an opportunity to pursue compensation under a policy. A claimant still has to prove the organization is liable, though, before an insurer will agree to a payout.

Drivers Benefit from Personal Insurance Coverage

Given that a race track is unlikely to be liable for property damage or injuries from a crash, non-professional racers must consider their insurance coverage. Traditional auto insurance won’t cover racing. These policies have exclusions for competitions, off-street use, or accidents that occur on tracks designed for racing. Individuals who want to recreationally race vehicles can protect themselves by purchasing competition coverage from a specialty insurance company.

Ask a Car Accident Lawyer for Help

Following a serious crash at a race track, a driver should consult a lawyer. An experienced attorney will look into the cause of the crash. If there’s evidence a race track was responsible, the lawyer will carefully review the liability waiver. They’ll determine what the race track is protected against vs. what type of claims might still be possible, such as a personal injury claim based on willful and wanton conduct.

A lawyer also will analyze the contract to determine if it meets the state’s guidelines for an enforceable waiver. Only with a thorough review by an attorney will a driver gain a clear understanding of their legal rights and options.

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