Sunday, June 29, 2003

Speedway can't enforce 'release' for spectators

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Unlike participants in a sporting event, spectators cannot be required to sign a liability release form, the Kentucky Court of Appeals said Friday.

The ruling by a three-judge panel reinstated a lawsuit by a woman who sued for negligence after being hit by a car at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway in Marshall County in October 2000.

To buy a $20 seat near the pits, Beverly Poole was required to sign a release. Shortly after entering the pit area, she was hit by a car being pushed by one of the speedway's trucks.

A trial judge said Poole signed the release without coercion and it could be enforced. The appeals court disagreed.

"The general rule in Kentucky is that agreements which purport to release a party from the consequences of his own negligence are invalid," the court said in an opinion by Judge Daniel T. Guidugli of Newport.

It is different between race tracks and race participants because "such relationships are not unequal," the opinion said. But in Poole's case, "she paid the fee of a spectator to enter the premises and proceeded to a spectator area adjacent to the pits. ... We must conclude that the trial court erred in treating Poole as something other than a spectator."

Judge Lewis Paisley of Lexington and Special Judge John D. Miller of Owensboro joined in the ruling.

A second panel, ruling in an appeal by a couple who sued over a home remodeling job, ordered a hearing in Scott County on their allegation that inspectors took a bribe from the contractor or otherwise acted in bad faith.

If true, neither inspector would be entitled to official immunity, the appeals court said. But unless the couple can prove the allegation, the inspectors cannot be held liable for having approved the contractor's work, the court said.

Virgil and Tammy Griffith of Sadieville sued building inspector Mike Flinn and electrical inspector Don Hawkins of the Georgetown-Scott County Office of Building Inspection. The Griffiths contended their contractor's work was shoddy, but the inspectors approved it.

The couple also sued the city and county, which were dismissed as defendants in Scott County Circuit Court. The appeals court upheld their dismissal.

Chief Judge Tom Emberton of Edmonton wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Matthew Baker and Joseph Huddleston, both of Bowling Green.

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