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Car-ried Away by Auto Racing: Spectator Injuries at Sporting Events

I. Short Track, High Skill

To this very day, and dating all the way back to the year 1960, there is a Nascar racetrack ---technically called a short track[1]--- in Tennessee that is quite famous. If you were to look at its website, you will see that it even notes its excitement can include “fiery crashes.” But it is not because of possible negligence by a driver that people attend these races. It's exactly the opposite. The excitement is how professional drivers can be so good at what they do, that there are not constant crashes. It is skill, which consistently attracts fans.

Negligence law shows that risks, are not all to the drivers, and doesn't stop at the track's edge. In the following case, from a local North Carolina racetrack, we will consider the discussion between an injured spectator’s negligence law attorney and the Supreme Court judges. Like so many other people in North Carolina, the Supreme Court judges seem to know their racing.

II. On Track to Prevent Spectator Injuries

The judges were especially interested in the keen-eyed testimony of the injured spectator’s star witness : “his right tire---rear tire---came off just as he came out of the turn... the car... spun in the tire came off the car, hit the bank and went straight up and over” into the stands where it hit the spectator.

Another witness testified “I saw the Hudson come out of the fourth turn and it looked like the wheel came off of it and hit the bottom of the bank and shot straight up and came over.” The judges responded to the negligence attorney’s proof that the timing of the accident was crucial. The track, the negligence law attorney pointed out, had already been in use for about 2 ½  hours for many other races. There was no evidence that the track itself was unusual or dangerous. The racetrack owners attempted to show that there was a depression on the track itself that caused the injury. All told, the negligence law attorney in the case pointed out five specific areas where it was arguable that the racetrack owner had failed to keep standards in place to protect spectators.

Ultimately, the justices unanimously agreed, that North Carolina negligence law required the racetrack owners to exercise reasonable care for spectator safety. They noted that they were not “insurers of his safety,” but they still had a general obligation for knowing or reasonably foreseeing dangers to spectators.

III.   A Serious Toll to Pay?

The last, largest single-day US spectator injury toll was back in 2013. Twenty-eight spectators were seriously injured at the Daytona International Speedway (in the run-ups to the Daytona 500 itself). The cause that time was a 12-car pileup that sent a car, siding, and debris into the stands. According to a study by the Charlotte Observer, a devastating 46 spectators have died at all motorsport (not Nascar) events between 1990 and 2010.

Attending any sport or crowded venue has lots of risks, some hidden and some only discovered later by the work of a Negligence case attorney. But, most people who die or suffer injuries at professional car races are drivers and field marshals. Commendably for Nascar, not one single death occurred at a Nascar race. Instead, only relatively few Nascar crashes have actually hurt spectators by a crash or equipment failure. There was the awful 1987 Talladega accident, when debris from Bobby Allison’s car flipped into the grandstands. After that, one more Talladega accident saw Carl Edwards’s car flip into the catch fence.

Nascar has not had a death at any of its top levels since investing millions of dollars in safety after Dale Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona 500. The nationally televised tragedy created a living legacy to Earnhardt: mandatory head-and-neck restraints, crash-absorbing walls (at Nascar tracks anyway), and certainly safer cars. Nevertheless, a separate and independent study of racetrack safety has one chilling total: 520 people (not spectators, but staff, Marshalls, or drivers)  have died at Nascar events.

Why this mixed success? American speed racing has been an ardent observer of international wrecks. The worst motorsport crash in history occurred at the 24-hour Grand Prix in Le Mans in 1955. Ironically coming during what was called the Endurance and Efficiency stage, a staggering 83 spectators died in that year’s crash. The deaths came about largely because of inattention to fan placement to the action.

So if any “good” thing came from that horrible event, it was awareness and new rules. The impact was widespread too, with tough safety measures fairly quickly adopted throughout American motorsports. It’s probably a pretty accurate argument to point out that negligence law attorneys in the United States have also helped provide for more safety, by cautioning and suing where necessary.

IV.  More Than Mechanics

Negligence cases at racetracks almost always garner national attention. But an experienced negligence law or even a premises liability attorney knows that accidents are more likely to happen in a much less spectacular way. There is a much greater risk of getting hurt on the way to the concession stand at a racetrack than from the racetrack itself. It’s a wonder that there aren't more accidents to spectators. This hardly makes light of the potential for being hurt as a spectator at any event. In fact, much like the high level skill set of a professional driver, so is the skill set of a qualified negligence law firm.

These considerations also explain why most sport venues have evolved very elaborate medical treatment facilities.


The case, from the 1960s, is still something of a pit stop in terms of analyzing negligence law at sporting events. As with needing a professional driver on the track, so does having a negligence case accurately presented require an experienced and seasoned litigator . Fortunately, unlike split second decisions at a sport racing event, people generally have a little more time to get the help they need.

If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in an accident related to poor site maintenance, aging or catastrophic equipment failure, or faulty construction or design at a venue or event, please contact us. You will speak with a negligence case law or liability attorney/ lawyer who can best answer your questions. There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

[1] short track races typically feature up to 24 drivers who jostle for position on oval tracks less than a half-mile around. Cars can travel at treacherous speeds of up to 130 mph. Fans often stand just feet away.

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