Millions of people attend sporting events as spectators every year, whether professional, college, high school, little league or even pick-up games at a local park. Florida courts have long recognized that certain risks are inherent in sporting events, including injuries to spectators, and have often imposed limited duties on the owners of the facilities and organizers of the sporting events. These limited duties come from the relevant law in the area of “spectators hit by flying stuff” which owes a debt to baseball, where the “baseball rule” generally prohibits fans struck by batted balls or thrown bats from recovering damages against stadium owners and operators. Although there are variations on this rule, it’s been followed by many courts for years, and has been extended to some of the other flying objects. And some states have even passed laws to make sure judges don’t change their minds. There’s another problem for those injured. Sports tickets contain-often in absurdly tiny print-disclaimers against liability. They also state that, by entering the stadium, fans assume the risk of being hit by such objects.
The disclaimer on the back of the ticket has not been completely accepted here in Florida and has helped those injured in several NASCAR auto racing accidents. Florida courts have disfavored the “assumption of risk” defense and those type of disclaimers, finding them to be against public policy when they’re just written on the back of a ticket and not called to the customer’s attention. (which appear to have been used on the tickets at Daytona). The back of the Daytona 500 ticket reads: “The holder of this ticket expressly assumes all risk incident in 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.”
As one lawyer told USA TODAY – until the late ’70s, assumption of risk was a total defense in Florida. That was replaced by a standard of comparative negligence regarding both parties. He said that if the case did go to trial, the litigants would have to prove that race organizers were grossly negligent in protecting their customers. “They’ve got to show negligence – and is there really negligence on part of Daytona?” the lawyer said. “The fence kept the car from going into the stands. It did what it was supposed to do … but how in the world did the debris get through? When they’re going 200 mph, anything can happen. “
Thus, it wasn’t surprising to read that a spectator claiming to be injured by wreckage from the Austin Dillon wreck in July 2015 at Daytona International Speedway has dropped his lawsuit against the track and NASCAR. Spectator William Fulton dropped his lawsuit after reaching a confidential out-of-court settlement. In the lawsuit, Fulton claimed that he was sitting in Row 6 when the crash happened at the finish of the Coke Zero 400, where Dillon’s car got airborne and flew into the catch fence. Fulton claimed that as he shielded his wife, he was hit in the head and shoulder by debris. Dillon was not injured in the crash. Beyond stating in the complaint that he has not fully recovered from the injuries, Fulton did not list specific injuries in his complaint nor a specific amount being sought in damages.
NASCAR requires tracks to assume liability for fan injuries, and tracks are required to carry $50 million in liability insurance, according to the standard sanctioning agreement as reported by Dover International Speedway in public filings.