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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Three fans hurt in crash hire law firm

By David Newton
ESPN.com

An Orlando, Fla.-based law firm has been hired to represent three of those injured in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Attorney Matt Morgan of Morgan & Morgan announced the hiring on Twitter Monday night. The tweet read:

"BREAKING: My firm has been retained by three individuals who were injured at the NASCAR race this past weekend. -- @MattMorganESQ."

Daytona crash, injured fans
Emergency workers help injured spectators in the upper level of the front grandstand at Daytona International Speedway after a major wreck on the final lap of the Nationwide race.

Morgan told ESPN.com on Tuesday that no lawsuits have been filed, but he is gathering information for the individuals to "pursue their claim for damages against the entities responsible for the injuries."

The entities could include Daytona International Speedway, the company that designed the catch fence, NASCAR, the car owner and others.

"At this time, we have no knowledge that any lawsuits have been filed. As per company policy, we do not comment on pending litigation." DIS spokesman Andrew Booth said Tuesday afternoon.

"We're in very preliminary stages to see what was done wrong and what could have been done to prevent this type of injury," Morgan said. "I've done a preliminary investigation to see what has been done with the fencing in the past and the fencing now. As time goes on, I'll have a better understanding of liability."

NASCAR itself has begun to look into the crash.

Tom Gideon, the director for safety at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., will head up the crash investigation for the governing body.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, said Kyle Larson's car has been impounded, though he noted, "We haven't begun to look at it."

Pemberton said there is no timetable for when the investigation might be completed. He said it was too early to determine if the crossover gate played a role in how the accident unfolded or if the tire that injured fans went through or over the catch fence.

That the front of Larson's car was sheared off didn't seem to surprise Pemberton.

"You can saw a steamship in half with those cables," he said.

At least 28 spectators were injured by debris from Larson's car, owned by Turner Scott Motorsports, that went airborne into the frontstretch catch fence on the last lap. Two spectators initially were listed in critical condition, one life-threatening, at Halifax Health in Daytona Beach.

Those two are believed to have been struck by a tire that detached from the car when the front end was ripped from the rest of the body, something Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said he's never seen happen.

Those two have since been upgraded to stable condition. All seven spectators taken to Halifax Health remain hospitalized, a hospital spokesman said on Tuesday.

Morgan said two of his clients were near the fence and were hit by debris. He said another suffered a significant fracture to the fibula, as well as other injuries.

He declined to release the names of those injured.

That a firm has been hired in this matter shouldn't come as a surprise. Fifty lawsuits were filed in 1999 after a tire went over the catch fence at Charlotte Motor Speedway and killed three spectators during an IRL race.

Former CMS president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler told ESPN.com the track settled for "somewhere between $10 [million] and $15 million" before the cases went to trial.

He expects similar personal injury suits from the Daytona crash.

"Oh, Lord, if 20 people were injured they'll have 25 lawsuits," Wheeler said of the Daytona incident. "That's just the way it is. There's already lawyers sitting around preparing for this."

Track president Joie Chitwood sat in Section H of the Campbell Grandstand, where most of the injuries occurred, for the first 30 laps of Sunday's Daytona 500 to assure fans they are safe.

Chitwood said the track is working with NASCAR on a report to determine just what happened after Larson's car was launched into the fence, ripping a hole in the catch fence where a crossover gate was located on the frontstretch.

The fence was repaired without a new crossover gate in time for Sunday's race.

There is a waiver on the back of tickets for NASCAR races which states that fans assume all risks. The waiver on the back of the Daytona Nationwide ticket read: "The holder of the ticket expressly assumes all risk incident of the event, whether occurring prior to, during or subsequently to the actual event, and agrees that all participants, sanctioning bodies and employees, agents, officers and directors of Daytona International Speedway, its affiliates and subsidiaries, are hereby released from any and all claims arriving from the event, including claims of negligence."

Wheeler said from his experience that does not prevent fans from seeking damages.

"The competitor signs a release sheet and you're competing, the track is protected," Wheeler said. "When a spectator goes in he is not protected. All you have to do at that point is prove negligence.

"The truth of the matter is, there are potential problems that can literally [allow fans] to walk away with the speedway. You've got insurance, but if you have, say $10 million worth of insurance per person, and the court awards the plaintiff $15 million ... at that point you're $5 million in the hole."

Wheeler said it is beneficial in most situations for the track to settle with the individuals.

"These things can get catastrophic in the fact if you have 30 people and you've got an excess declared toward judgment, say $5 million, then you may be staring down the guns of $50 or $60 million,'' he said. "I don't care who you are."

Morgan said he has not contacted DIS at this point, but plans to do so as soon as he gathers more information.