By Doyice Cotten
|Linton Combs was injured when struck by a racecar while he was in the racetrack infield. Combs filed suit against West Siloam Speedway Corp. (Combs v. West Siloam Speedway Corp., 2017) alleging negligence in the design and setup of the track, including failure to have barriers put up that would prevent vehicles from entering the infield. He also alleged “recklessness” by Siloam for actions and omissions of such a nature so as to constitute conduct evidencing reckless disregard for the rights of others.
Defendants admitted that Combs was injured while in the infield, but filed a motion for summary judgment based upon a waiver signed by Combs; also, Siloam claimed that Combs assumed the risk by voluntarily participating in the speedway activities. Combs had volunteered to help in the infield in exchange for admission. Combs claimed the document he signed was a sign-in sheet and did not release defendants.
Oklahoma Waiver Law (Shown in Italics)
The Oklahoma Supreme Court in Manning v. Brannon (1998) and Schmidt v. United States (1996) established the validity of liability waivers.
Hurdle 1— their language must evidence a clear and unambiguous intent to exonerate the would-be defendant from liability for the sought-to-be-recovered damages;
Hurdle 2 – at the time the contract (containing the clause) was executed there must have been no vast difference in bargaining power between the parties; and
Hurdle 3 – enforcement of these clauses must never (a) be injurious to public health, public morals or confidence in administration of the law or (b) so undermine the security of individual rights vis-à-vis personal safety or private property as to violate public policy.
As to the first hurdle, the Supreme Court explained that
The Racetrack Waiver
The waiver in the present case explicitly provides that
EACH OF THE UNDERSIGNED
RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE the promoter, participants, racing association, . . . track operator, track owner, officials, car owners, drivers, pit crews, . . . owners and lessees of premises used to conduct the event and each of them, their officers and employees, all for the purposes herein referred to as “releasees,” from all liability to the undersigned . . . for any and all loss or damage, and any claim or demands therefor on account of injury to the person or property or resulting in death of the undersigned, whether caused by the negligence of the releasees or otherwise while the undersigned is in or upon the restricted area, and/or, competing, officiating in, observing, working for, or for any purpose participating in the event.
The Combs court pointed out that:
The court concluded that the waiver passed the first hurdle established by the Supreme Court. The Combs court looked again to the Supreme Court in determining whether the waiver met the second hurdle.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court explained that courts consider two factors in determining equality of the parties’ bargaining power:
The Combs court felt that attending a car race at a speedway – “is plainly not of any significant importance to the physical or economic well-being of Combs who states in his deposition he was not even a volunteer, much less an employee, at the time of the accident, and who states he was simply in the infield area to observe the race without having to pay for a stadium ticket.”
Regarding the second factor, the Combs court said the second factor was not applicable because Combs was not seeking any “services” at the Speedway, but was merely there for entertainment. The court then concluded that the waiver passed the second hurdle.
The third hurdle required by the Supreme Court provides that enforcement of these clauses must never
The Combs court concluded that the Siloam waiver Combs signed for entry into the racetrack infield would in no way “injure public morals, public health or confidence in the administration of the law.” It added that the waiver would not “destroy . . . rights to personal safety or private property.” Combs could have simply decided to not enter the infield.
The court ruled that enforcement of the waiver did not violate public policy; thus, the third hurdle was satisfied. Further, the court ruled the waiver to be valid and enforceable.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Stuart Seeger via Flickr.