The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL A. TELESCA
In this diversity action, the plaintiffs seek damages from the defendants NASCAR and Watkins Glen International, Inc. ("Watkins Glen")
for the wrongful death of John D. Mc Duffie, Jr. ("Mc Duffie") as a result of a fatal car crash that occurred when Mc Duffie was a participant at a race at the Watkins Glen Raceway. Mc Duffie, a veteran professional stock car driver, was killed while competing at the annual "Budweiser at the Glen" race on August 11, 1991. His widow alleges that her husband's death was caused by the defendants' negligence in knowingly providing a dangerous race track with substandard barriers. In addition, plaintiff alleges a claim for willful misconduct by the defendants.
Defendants NASCAR and Watkins Glen now move for summary judgment and for the reasons set forth below, those motions are granted and the complaint is dismissed.
Except as noted, the following material facts are not disputed by the parties. NASCAR is a Florida corporation engaged in the business of sanctioning stock car races. (Affidavit of Phillip Havens, at 1). NASCAR develops and implements rules and specifications so that races are organized and run in a fair, competitive environment. (Id.) NASCAR does not own or operate any racetracks, nor does it sponsor any races. (Id., at 2).
Defendant Watkins Glen owns a road race track in Watkins Glen, New York, which holds car races sponsored by NASCAR and a variety of other sanctioning organizations. NASCAR has sanctioned races at Watkins Glen since 1986 and was the sanctioning body for the "Budweiser at the Glen" race held at Watkins Glen on August 11, 1991 when Mc Duffie was killed.
Watkins Glen is one of two "road courses" in the Winston Cup Series of races. The remaining 27 races are run on oval tracks. Unlike the oval courses used for most of the NASCAR races, a road course has an irregular configuration with straightaways, turns in each direction, and combination turns. (Defendants' Joint Rule 25 Statement, at P 8).
Mc Duffie, 52 years old at the time of his death, had been a professional stock car driver for over 25-years. Each year of his participation in NASCAR racing, Mc Duffie completed and signed applications for NASCAR membership both as an owner and driver. These applications contained releases running in favor of NASCAR as well as the owners and operators of the tracks at NASCAR sanctioned events.
As part of his NASCAR membership, Mc Duffie was provided with insurance benefits for medical expenses and a death benefit. Mc Duffie, in his application for the NASCAR benefit plan, agreed that any claim for accident injuries (including death), incurred in any NASCAR sanctioned stock car event, was limited to those provided in the benefit plan. (See Releases attached as Exhibits 5 and 6 to defendants' Joint Rule 25 Statement).
In addition, Mc Duffie signed event releases for his participation in each NASCAR event. In all, Mc Duffie signed four liability release forms in conjunction with the four-day "Budweiser at the Glen" event. He also paid a $ 340 entry fee. The General Counsel for NASCAR describes this fee as consisting of a $ 325 NASCAR inspection fee and a $ 15 fee paid to the track to defray the cost of waste disposal. (Havens Reply Affidavit). Plaintiff characterizes the fee as a "user fee" based upon the entry form (plaintiff's Exhibit 4), which states that a "$ 325 entry fee" must be paid for all cars when signing in at the track.
Mc Duffie competed in NASCAR events at Watkins Glen in the years 1986 - 1991, completing 328 laps and earning more than $ 16,000 in prize money. On August 8, 9 and 10, 1991, Mc Duffie ran practice laps and qualifying laps at the Raceway. It is beyond dispute that Mc Duffie was thoroughly familiar with the Watkins Glen track in particular, as well as the general risks of auto racing.
As he approached the end of a long straightaway leading to Turn 5 during the fifth lap of the race on August 11, 1991, Mc Duffie's car sustained mechanical difficulties, which caused him to lose braking power and control of his vehicle. He collided with a car being driven by Jimmy Means, lost a tire, spun off the track across a large grassy area and hit the tire barrier outside Turn 5. After impact, the car overturned, and landed on its roof. Mc Duffie was killed instantly. A split second later the Means car crashed into the barrier at almost the same spot. Means climbed out of his car unhurt and summoned aid for Mc Duffie.
Plaintiff, while not disputing that Mc Duffie's car went out of control as a result of mechanical failure, nonetheless argues that Turn 5 was negligently designed, thus "encouraging speeds for which it was not designed." (Edleman Affidavit, at 3). As proof, plaintiff cites the "inner loop" or "zig zag chicane" which was added to the long straight-away leading to Turn 5 after Mc Duffie's accident. Apparently, plaintiff is contending that had the chicane ...