Superspeedway Not Liable for Death Due to Lightning Strike
Marshall Dennehey attorneys obtained a defense verdict on behalf of the largest superspeedway in Pennsylvania after a two-week trial in Philadelphia. The trial involved consolidated claims by three different sets of plaintiffs for serious injury and a death after being struck by lightning while present in the race track's parking lot following the conclusion of a NASCAR stock car auto race. The plaintiffs sought both compensatory and punitive damages on the theory that our client and the co-defendant race sponsor received notification of a severe thunderstorm warning on the day of the race, and were tracking the storm for over an hour and did not timely or properly warn the spectators attending the race of the storm's approach. The plaintiffs' case included evidence that showed that the defendants had undertaken to have emergency action/warning plans in effect to deal with potential dangerous situations, including warnings about severe weather, but which were not followed. The plaintiffs claimed they were unaware that a thunderstorm warning had been issued, and were tailgating at their vehicle in what they thought was just a rainstorm when they were hit by lightning. Prior to trial, the plaintiffs rejected the client's insurer's offers of settlement and demanded $14 million. The defense strategy centered on the fact that the storm's approach--with dark clouds, thunder and visible lightning--should have been apparent to anyone present at the track that afternoon, and, therefore, the plaintiffs did not need to be warned about the potential hazard of being struck by lightning. At trial, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages and charged the jury on negligence only. Following deliberating for an hour, the jury found one of the defendants negligent but that it did not cause the plaintiffs' harm, and, therefore, both defendants were exonerated on all claims.