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Discussion Starter #1
I'm not a lawyer (I just play one on TV), but have wondered.....

To what extent do you suppose potential sponsors, land owners & road owners shy away from involvement in rallying due to potential liablity lawsuits?

Most other sports in the US are neatly contained and controlled within an arena. However, as ye all know, rallying is not, & therefore has the potential to injure people and property in infinite ways.

Last week a California jury just awarded a woman $28,000,000,000.00 with a tobacco company's money because they didn't warn her of cigarettes' dangers.

Do you suppose that a jury would hesitate to penalize British American Tobacco equally if it sponsored a car here and it maimed someone?:'(

Would reasonable tort reform help calm the fears of sponsors?
 

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Reasonable tort reform would add billions to America's GNP. Unfortunately, our country is run by lawyers (and soon, senior citizens) so there's not much chance of constructive change.

In this sort of environment, practicioners of risky activities have to be careful to stay under the radar--combining such activities with similar safe activities into one big, insurable lump. It would be incredibly foolish and probably ultimately fatal to the sport of rally in the U.S. if someone went around and told everyone how potentially dangerous it can be.

Fortunately, no one would be that dumb, so we're pretty safe. ;)
 

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Tort reform is coming slowly for a lot of reasons...and despite Mr. Bogert's indictment of lawyers, the ABA is in favor of it. It has to happen on the state level, because most of the huge awards are in state courts. Legislators seem to have more important things on their plate - at least in my state.

My experience has been that when landowners see a $5M liability insurance policy, coupled with a coherent safety plan, they relax a lot. At the moment, we have relatively few spectators compared to, say, NASCAR, and thus the perceived liability is lower.

Statistically, rallying is quite safe compared to other forms of racing. I don't believe we've EVER had a spectator injury claim - at least not a big one. Granted, the competitor may be less safe without safety crews behind every tree, but competitors do not typically become plaintiffs.

Bruce
Lawyer AND Senior Citizen

(Does this mean I'm running the country?)
 

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All of Bruce's statements are correct--looking backwards. Looking forwards the situation is a lot less clear. Insurance rates (even for ClubRallies) are rumored to be increasing greatly in 2003, just like Pro insurance did this year. And that's with no spectator injuries/fatalities.

I think everyone agrees we are one high-profile accident away from disaster. I nearly mowed down a half dozen fans myself in Maine this year. John Drislane did the same at STPR. I wonder how many more incidents like those happen off camera?

But given our many years of good claims experience, I'm sure a few dead spectators wouldn't bother the actuaries, right?
 

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>Unfortunately, our country is run by lawyers (and soon,
>senior citizens).

Jon, that noise you hear is the canes and walkers of little old men in
black suits and sunglasses coming to seize your computer! ;)

Wheeze, clunk, clunk. Cough. Pffft. Ooops!



George the Gravelgeezer
 

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>All of Bruce's statements are correct--looking backwards.
>Looking forwards the situation is a lot less clear.
>Insurance rates (even for ClubRallies) are rumored to be
>increasing greatly in 2003, just like Pro insurance did this
>year. And that's with no spectator injuries/fatalities.
>

SCCA's insurance carrier did, however, pay two death benefits in 2001...and money is money. Risk Management decided to nick ProRally for some of the increases in 2002, as they were better equipped to pay. ClubRally will pay their share in 2003.

No question that spectator safety should be high on everyone's list. This is why I was appalled at some of the posts about the Brockway Mountain stage. Some people just don't get it.

Bruce
 

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I'm beleive that SCCA's carrier may have had to pay off on a photographer getting slightly hit at the watercrossing (maybe 17 years ago?).

I think he was "glanced" by Wodner's Group B Peugeot 205.
 

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Four tree two remember Andrew
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Folks:

The potential for suit is great . . . the potential for recovery is there as well, but not as high as the filing of a suit. My review of reported SCCA cases (something I do out of interest) amazes me that even drivers that have signed waivers and are competing in racing events try to recover (or their spouses if they are dead).

I have come across one rally related case, which involved a jeep driver at the old Sunriser 400.

Regarding spectators, most states have well developed common-law dealing with injuries at sports events. By spectating at a rally, potential plaintiffs are assuming the risk of being injured by a vehicle, just as they would be assuming the risk of being hit by baseball or a hockey puck.

Nevertheless, a high profile accident, such as the one at the RAC, could be a death knell to the sport. Witness the reaction when the folks got hit by the flying tire at the roundy round race. Or the Mille Miglia, which was stopped when the death toll started getting too high.

To cover themselves, organizers and sanctioning bodies need to control access of the spectators to the events. Well defined safe viewing areas, as well as legal disclaimers go far to limit liability. Good marshalling and spectator education (e.g. don't stand on the outside of the turn) is needed as well.

None of the above is to constitute legal advice.

Just my .02

Wilson von Kessler
Rallyist, Organizer, Trial Lawyer (usually for the Dark Side).

P.S. And yes, it was I that authored the language found on the back of the Cherokee Trails tickets.
 
G

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

an SCCA ProRally car is involved in an accident during a transit(on public roads) resulting in fatality of a person not connected with the rally. The ProRally car has non-DOT approved tires, is not a US federalized vehicle, and has VIN # tampering. We ARE in the USA, what would be the result of this? Bruce?

Being prepared for and discussing something that is a very real possibility is dumb? No

Allowing a factory backed car(or anyone for that matter) to get away with speeding on public roads, or in service is dumb.


This is why safety is(should be) absolute #1

Peter
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

>
>an SCCA ProRally car is involved in an accident during a
>transit(on public roads) resulting in fatality of a person
>not connected with the rally. The ProRally car has non-DOT
>approved tires, is not a US federalized vehicle, and has VIN
># tampering. We ARE in the USA, what would be the result of
>this? Bruce?

You're talking about two different things here: the car violations are CRIMINAL, while the accident would likely result in a CIVIL suit (although some criminal penalties might be involved.)

I consider it unlikely that law enforcement at the site of an accident would bother with investigating the violation of Federal regulations. I'm not really sure they have jurisdiction over such things. When was the last time you saw a local cop look at the VIN or the DOT numbers on tires at an accident site?

The anti-social behavior on the public roads is a MUCH bigger problem, IMNSHO.

Like Wilson says, this ain't a legal opinion.

Bruce
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

We got into stage rallying when we did out of concern that the sport would soon be shut down in this country by the trial attorneys and the saps they get to pursue suits; we wanted to drive stages while we still could. Paradoxically, what is probably going to get me out of it is 6-digit liability premiums required in my business (for me alone) while the sport continues on as healthy as seemingly ever. Sure, the ABA may advocate tort reform, but ATLA members are donating maximum amounts to politicos pushing to maintain our same old crap-shoot civil system.

Remember when you scare that spectator who then has a heart attack and then can't remember his dog's name and so sues you for 9 bazillion dollars (and there have been more ridiculous suits pursued to a successful conclusion)....in a civil suit, there is no need to PROVE something happened, only that the preponderance of evidence shows it. And that only means convincing a jury that there's a greater than 50/50 chance that you're responsible. And at least in my field, there is a lot of information out there to suggest that outcome of a trial bears little relationship to the facts of the case....it all hinges on how many tears you can jerk out of the jury.

And even if you "win," what about your time away from productive work, the costs to defend yourself etc.??

You know, thinking about all this is worse than thinking about putting the MG sideways into a tree at speed. I rally as an escape from this kind of nonsense. You guys all seem to pretty much be of that same mind...how can you honestly strap into your rally car and not believe in the pit of your heart that people get what they deserve (*i.e. a spectator who positions himself in the flight path of a rally car suffered his deserved consequences), the "legal system" be damned?
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

>ATLA members are
>donating maximum amounts to politicos pushing to maintain
>our same old crap-shoot civil system.
>

Remember, for every member of the plaintiffs' Bar, there's a member of the defendants' Bar. :) This is why tort reform is moving slowly.

> And at least in my
>field, there is a lot of information out there to suggest
>that outcome of a trial bears little relationship to the
>facts of the case....it all hinges on how many tears you can
>jerk out of the jury.
>

Admittedly, the medical liability field is a difficult place to practice, with outcomes depending on jerking tears AND often unintelligible expert testimony. (Sorry, Phil :))

>And even if you "win," what about your time away from
>productive work, the costs to defend yourself etc.??

This is why a good insurance policy is so necessary. Bear in mind that if you decide to sue, you don't waste your time with people who don't have any money - like most rally competitors - you go for the deep pockets. The sanctioning body will be the one that's hit.

What I don't understand is why, if the man on the street is horrified at the enormous awards, why do juries of LAYMEN keep awarding them? Lawyers can ask for anything they want, but the JURY makes the decision. Judges commonly use their power to REDUCE awards.

Another tidbit: Less than 5% of all lawsuits filed in the US ever come to trial. Think about it.

Bruce
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

Bruce,

All valid points; we're on the same page with this. I secretly and naively hoped that the rally world and everything connected with it would somehow be different. Nope...same old same old, just faster, dirtier, and sideways!
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

Bruce asks: "What I don't understand is why, if the man on the street is horrified at the enormous awards, why do juries of LAYMEN keep awarding them? Lawyers can ask for anything they want, but the JURY makes the decision. Judges commonly use their power to REDUCE awards."

I don't think this is really all that different than the commonly held perception that everybody in Congress is a jerk and/or a crook except your own local congressman (with a few obvious exceptions ;) ). It's a lot easier to see the bad of a system in the hypothetical sense than it is when confronted with a concrete example that affects you (if even as a juror). JMOFWIW

Kent Gardam
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

I too am a trial lawyer, (ATLA member) and I represent Plaintiffs pretty much exclusively. I would not become involved in a case involving rally, primarily because I would feel a personal conflict as I am a keen rallyist.

But even if I was not, I would think long and hard before filing such a case. In my jurisdiction there are statutory and common law restrictions against suits by people injured while engaging in recreational sports as well as qualified immunities for non-profit recreational organizations and volunteer workers.

Moreover, if I had a client who was injured while doing something stupid, the jury would hear about it, and even without the restrictions on lawsuits, I would most likely lose the case.

Now, I have to admit some lawyers file frivilous cases, and sometimes they even win them. But it costs money to sue people, and a lawyer who files too many stupid cases will lose most of them and will quickly bankrupt himself.

So while the system is not perfect, it is probably better than most people think. Although you hear a lot about outrageous jury awards they are the exception not the rule, and there are many cases where an equally stupid jury denies a deserving Plaintiff an award -- but these cases don't make the news.

Insurance companies are not all good either. The more thay can scare people about the risk of frivilous suits the more thay can charge in premiums.

Well that's my view, but like the others', its not legal advice.
 

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RE: Rallying, Liability & /// What if

Actually. a very similar accident did occur at the last Sunriser. As I remember , a service Crew (Jamaicans?) went left of the centerline on a transit and were involved in an accident with a local, who was killed. Anything come of this?
The codiver who survived the 1983(?)POR fatal accident did file a suit against the organisers (Gary Hays and MaryJo Czyzio) and SCCA as well as the estate of the driver.I know that the case died after seven years and no court time.

Bruce Beauvais
de KA8VTK
 
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