Any reader who has ever taken the time and effort to parse through the paragraphs legalese printed in tiny print on the back of a ticket will have some idea of the obstacles that might face the victims of last weekend's Daytona 500 crash. Most sporting events and venues use sophisticated waiver and disclaimer languages to try to avoid any liability.
In a nutshell, these venues can in theory require spectators to waive all rights to sue over any personal injuries that occur during an event. Would this really prevent the nearly 30 victims of last weekend's crash from pursuing Daytona International Speedway or NASCAR in court? Not necessarily.
While these disclaimers and waivers have a long tradition, companies cannot just avoid any liability by writing into a ticket. For example, a bus company cannot use ticket language to disclaim liability and then ignore proper maintenance on its vehicles. The company would still be liable to any victims.
Similarly, the disclaimers here might only apply to the "normal" risks of observing a racing event. We can argue about whether "normal" risks include the risk of being injured by a flying car wheel while sitting in an upper-level grandstand seat. However, if it becomes clear that the speedway knew of big dangers to its customers and did nothing to make the facility safer, it could be liable for negligence despite the disclaimers. For example, if it knew that the safety barrier could not withstand a crashing car and that any debris would likely hit nearby people, that would be a big problem for NASCAR.
Any lawsuits arising from this crash could face a tough fight - it will be important for these victims to secure the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Source: Reuters, "Lawyers weigh possible legal fallout of Daytona crash," Casey Sullivan, Feb. 25, 2013