On September 19, 2009 Frederick Knight went to his son’s automobile race at the Fulton Speedway, a 3/8 mile clay racetrack at County Route 57 in Fulton. He paid a special fee to watch from the pit area behind the track and had been there for two hours standing near his son’s car watching the early races when one of the 80 cars scheduled to race that night backed into him and knocked him to the ground causing serious injuries.
Mr. Knight, a 69 year old retired truck driver, sued both the driver who struck him and the owner of the track. After a trial in Onondaga County, a directed verdict was entered in plaintiff’s favor and the jury then awarded damages for (a) pain and suffering in the sum of $280,000 ($140,000 past – six years, $140,000 future – nine years) and (b) loss of household services in the sum of $440,000 ($140,000 past, $300,000 future – nine years).
In a post-trial motion, the defendants contended that (a) there was no basis for liability in view of a waiver plaintiff signed upon entering the speedway and the application of General Obligations Law Section 5-326 and (b) the loss of household services awards were excessive and without basis (they did not challenge the awards for plaintiff’s pain and suffering). The trial judge denied the motion.
In Knight v. Holland (4th Dept. 2017), the appellate court upheld the liability verdict but reduced the loss of household services award to $100,000.
The court’s decision discusses the waiver and liability issues in detail. Here are the injury details:
- right intertrochanteric hip fracture requiring open reduction internal fixation surgery with intramedullary rod
- recurring infections in right hip and knee requiring removal of hardware from hip and prior right knee replacement surgeries
- unable to walk without a walker
- difficulty standing and sitting, getting into and out of a car and picking up right foot and leg
- constant right hip and leg pain
At the time of the accident, plaintiff had been living for 14 years with Rayne Dabney who has been confined to a wheelchair her entire life and he helped her with all activities of daily living (including transferring her in and out of bed) . He’d break her chair down into its component parts to get it into their car, help her in and out and put the chair back together. Also, in the past, he did all of their grocery shopping, ran all of their errands and managed their household . Now, he can do none of that.
The appellate court substantially reduced the loss of household services award without setting out any factual basis but, too, there was only little proof at trial in terms of hard numbers relative to the loss of household services claim.
- Defendants counterclaimed against plaintiff alleging that his lawsuit was frivolous in light of the waiver and they sought to recover their defense costs from him.