Unique lawsuit with broad track day implications
You may have already seen reports circulating on the Internet regarding the lawsuit against a runway operator at Laguna Seca. There are a ton of them there. I’ll give you a TL version of it; DR.
If you really want to sink your teeth in, I encourage you to read the (long and in-depth) coverage of the good folks at RevZilla’s Common Tread. Mark Gardiner covered the lawsuit in his first filing in 2018, here. His excellent follow-up is here. They also published the judge’s 22-page decision and host the pdf here.
Too often, when prosecutions are made public, the facts get lost. This one may be no different. There is a lot to do.
To recap, in March 2016, Daniel Kim, CEO and chief promoter of electric vehicle company Lit Motors, took his Ducati off the track during a track day at Laguna Seca. In doing so, he hit a sandbag and suffered some pretty serious injuries. Shortly thereafter, he sued the track day organization, the track operator, and Monterey County, California for gross negligence. The lawsuit went to trial in 2018. A judge (not a jury, at the request of the plaintiff’s lawyers) recently issued a 22-page decision finding in favor of the defendants.
If all you know is there was a sandbag in the runoff areayou might be tempted to think that Kim is right and that sandbag should never have been there.
Take into account, however, that there are hundreds of sandbags in the run-off area of the track. They are there during the rainy season in California (it definitely rains in March in California) to prevent sandy runoff from the trail. It takes the crews two weeks to get all those sandbags out at the start of the rainy season and put them back in at the end.
Also, apparently the place where Kim left the track is not a common place to do it. Even if the organizers had removed a few sandbags in preparation for the track day, the bag he hit probably wouldn’t have been one.
The primary focus of track day safety is the pavement on the track. Sandbags help protect all motorcyclists riding on the track, by preventing rainwater from washing the sand onto the track.
Gross negligence can be proven when a company organizing a potentially dangerous event fails to meet published standards for said event. In the case of this track day, there are no standards, only guidelines, and these are the guidelines for FIM events. It was not an FIM sanctioned event.
There are other disturbing details, such as the fact that Kim attended the track day, but not the drivers’ meeting before hitting the track. He also signed a waiver. If you have ever attended a track day, you have signed a similar waiver. The language they contain details that you acknowledge that you are participating in an inherently risky activity. The only way to circumvent this waiver, and sue anyway, was to claim gross (not ordinary) negligence.
This lawsuit could have had outsized implications for motorcycle track days in general. This could have made insurers hesitant to cover these events. This could have made buying insurance for a track day much more expensive. And it could also have made general racetrack insurance more expensive, and therefore more expensive to rent. Given that the trial won’t officially end until May 19 and there’s still time to appeal, it could still drag on and have long-lasting effects.
What do you think of all this, dear track enthusiasts?