Thomas W. Wills, Judge of the Superior Court of Monterey County, California, has issued a Statement of Decision in favor of Laguna Seca Raceway owner Monterey County and its operational partner at the time SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula) in a multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit brought by track day rider Daniel Kim, Jr.
Kim was participating in a track day event March 14, 2015, when he rode off the track surface in Turn Five, hit a sandbag or sandbags used to keep water and dirt erosion away from the track surface, and suffered serious injuries.
In 2016, Kim (who had signed liability release waivers and had ridden, run off track, and even crashed during track days at Laguna Seca Raceway prior to the 2015 incident, according to the Statement of Decision) sued track day organizer [email protected], Monterey County, and SCRAMP for negligence due to the use of sandbags in a run-off area of the track, among other things.
A key element of the defense’s success was the involvement of attorney (and former motorcycle road racer) Stephen L. Hewitt. Hewitt initially was retained by the insurance company used by [email protected], and the Southern California-based attorney designed an extensive defense strategy based on his experience in motorcycle racing and his expertise in liability releases and the law.
During the trial, the plaintiff dismissed [email protected] from the lawsuit, in what may have been an attempt to remove Hewitt from the case, but the insurance company continued to pay Hewitt to consult with the lawyers defending Monterey County and SCRAMP.
“This case was hard to defend because I knew it was so important. It was very personal,” Hewitt told Roadracingworld.com. “This case could have meant the end to track day riding or it could have really changed track day riding because of the situation with the cost of insurance. Keigwins got put out of business by this.”
In a detailed Statement of Decision dated April 6, 2022, Judge Wills wrote:
“In summary, and for the reasons set forth above, the Court finds that there was neither gross nor ordinary negligence on the part of Defendants SCRAMP and County of Monterey which contributed to Plaintiff’s harm.
“There was no extreme departure by either defendant from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation to prevent harm to others. Nor was there a failure to exercise any care. There was no failure by either defendant to exercise reasonable care in any respect of the design, maintenance, operation, or inspection of the track or its surroundings; and no causal connection existed between any failure to warn, to inspect the track surroundings or to investigate prior crashes and Plaintiff’s collision. Neither defendant unreasonably increased a risk to Plaintiff over and above risks inherent in the activity of a track day; and neither defendant unreasonably failed to minimize risks not inherent in the activity or unreasonably exposed Plaintiff to an increased risk of harm. There was no causal connection between any lack of financial oversight, lack of financial management, or any financial problems, on the part of either defendant and Plaintiff’s collision. In view of the above, the Court need not find, or assess any percentage to, comparative fault on the part of Plaintiff.”
A hearing will be held in May to give the plaintiff an opportunity to object to the court’s decision, but the outcome of the hearing should not have a significant impact on the case.
“I think it’s doubtful that the court will sustain any of [the objections],” said Hewitt. “There might be a minor language change or two, but the plaintiff will have the opportunity to challenge the statement of decision. Once that challenge on the trial court level is done, through a series of procedures, that decision will become the judgement. Then the plaintiff’s counsel will have the right to file an appeal. I don’t think they will.”
Read the entire Statement of Decision below. Use the scroll and zoom tools in the bottom left corner of the PDF viewer to better see all pages of the document.