Illinois Drag Racing Waiver Upheld for Negligence — But not for Strict Liability

By Doyice Cotten

2849172733_05d89b22af_zDavid Jones, suffered permanent injuries in a drag-racing accident resulting from the failure of an added part during the performance of a wheelie. He filed this products liability action against UPR and numerous other entities alleged to have participated in the production or design of the Product, alleging negligence and strict liability (Jones v. UPR Products, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54887)

He had previously signed a Waiver of Liability Assumption of Risk and Indemnity Agreement. Relevant language in the waiver included:

2. [UNDERSIGNED] HEREBY RELEASES, WAIVES, DISCHARGES AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE the promoters, participants, racing associations, sanctioning organizations or any affiliated entities thereof, track operators, track owners, officials, vehicle owners, builders and designers, drivers, crews, rescue personnel, and persons in any RESTRICTED AREA, promoters, sponsors, equipment and parts manufacturers and suppliers, … 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 THEREFORE ON ACCOUNT OF INJURY … ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE EVENT(S), WHETHER CAUSED BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF ANY RELEASEE(S) OR OTHERWISE.

UPR and other defendants moved for summary judgment based on the waiver.  The court noted that a number of Illinois cases firmly establish that exculpatory agreements such as the Release may bar a race participant’s claims of negligence arising out of the race. Plaintiff argues that the waiver does not bar his claims because (1) he was not injured in a way that was foreseeable at the time he signed the Release, and (2) the language of the Release is ambiguous.

The court stated that the parties need not have contemplated the precise occurrence which results in injury, so long as the injury “falls within the scope of possible dangers ordinarily accompanying the activity and, thus, reasonably contemplated by the plaintiff.”  Jones claimed that it was not reasonably foreseeable that the Product would fail while he was performing a wheelie because he had been assured the product would not be problematic.

The court responded that this reasoning was not logical – it would follow that virtually no failure of equipment or other apparatus would be reasonably contemplated by the parties to a waiver. The court cited a previous case in which the court had ruled that

“In sum, a myriad of factors, which are either obvious or unknown, may singly or in combination result in unexpected and freakish racing accidents. Experienced race drivers, such as plaintiff, are obviously aware of such occurrences and the risks attendant to the sport of auto racing. The parties may not have contemplated the precise occurrence which resulted in plaintiff’s accident, but this does not render the exculpatory clause inoperable.

The court ruled that Jones’ injury falls within the scope of possible dangers ordinarily accompanying auto racing.

Plaintiff argues that the terms

“’equipment and parts manufacturers and suppliers,’ which the moving defendants contend apply to them, are ambiguous because it is unclear whether they refer to “manufacturers and suppliers” of any and all “equipment and parts” installed in any participating vehicle, regardless of when they were installed, or whether they refer only to “equipment and parts” specifically intended for use in the October 6, 2012 Byron Dragway event.”

The court said the waiver bars claims arising out of the drag-racing event against “equipment and parts manufacturers and suppliers” – and Jones was injured while drag-racing. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant holding that the waiver unambiguously released UPR from liability for negligence.  The court ruled, however, that the waiver did not bar the strict liability claims of the plaintiff.

Photo Credit: Thanks to Marion Doss on Flickr.