A Racing Incident – Claims of Go Kart Driver Injured by Driver with Down Syndrome to be Decided by a Jury (NY)

by

Corneli v. Adventure Racing Co., LLC (New York)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff participated as driver in go kart activities at the defendant’s racing entertainment facility, and he was injured when his go kart was struck by the go kart operated by defendant C.S., a seventeen-year-old who suffered from Down’s Syndrome.  Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the facility, alleging that the facility was negligent in the ownership, operation, management, maintenance supervision, staff training and control of the go kart ride and in the supervision and control of C.S.  The lawsuit was also filed against C.S. for negligently operating and driving the go kart, and C.S.’s alleged mother and father for negligent entrustment and allowing C.S. to negligently operate the go kart in a dangerous manner.

The defendant go kart facility filed a motion for summary judgment based on the doctrine of assumption of risk.  C.S.’s alleged mother and father filed cross-claims against the facility, and the mother and father filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that they were not responsible for C.S.’s conduct.  Plaintiff then filed his own motion for summary judgment.  The New York U.S. District Court addressed each motion in turn.

Detailing New York assumption of the risk law, the Court denied the facility’s motion, concluding that the plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the facility knew or should have known that C.S.’s allegedly intentional actions unreasonably increased risks to co-participants, thereby imposing a duty on the facility to supervise C.S. or prevent C.S. from harming fellow racers.  The Court cited to plaintiff’s allegations that C.S. had made threats about wrecking other participants prior to beginning the race, and that the facility’s employees heard and responded to those statements.  Plaintiff has stopped on the track because another go kart had stopped in front of him, and C.S. struck his go kart at or near top speed despite having adequate time and sufficient room on the track to avoid the collision.  Plaintiff alleged that the facility could have used the track’s automatic “Kartrol” system, which could remotely disabled the go karts on the track, and the facility could have removed C.S. from the track prior to the incident.

As to the alleged father’s motion for summary, the Court concluded that plaintiff had not alleged sufficient facts to establish that the alleged father was a biological parent of C.S. or the he was in loco parentis (i.e., in the place of a parent) to C.S. at the time of the collision.  As such, the alleged father’s motion was granted.

In her motion, the alleged mother argued that a parent cannot be held liable for her negligent supervision of her child under New York law.  She contended that plaintiff could not point to any evidence that she heard C.S. state that he was going to hit other go karts prior to the subject race, and that any allegations on that point were entirely speculative and insufficient to oppose summary judgment.  The mother also asserted that the presence of the facility’s employees to enforce track rules was sufficient adult supervision for the circumstances.  Moreover, the mother noted that even if she had observed C.S. violating track rules, she had no ability or authority to stop the race.  The Court explained that plaintiff failed to address the mother’s specific arguments, choosing to instead devoting his argument to negligent entrustment.  The Court held that plaintiff had conceded the points regarding negligent supervision to the defendant motion, and it granted her motion as to that cause of action.

The Court confirmed that it was well-settled under New York law that a parent cannot be held liable for the negligent supervision of her child.  However, the Court highlighted that negligent entrustment (“where a parent negligently entrusts a dangerous instrument to . . . her child”) is one exception to that rule.  To determine whether a particular object is a dangerous instrument, the Court explained that “the court looks at the nature of the instrument, its size, shape, weight and operation as well as the age, intelligence and proficiency of the child using it.”  Ultimately, the Court found that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the mother knew or should have known that it would be unsafe for her son to operate a go kart.  Although C.S. was old enough to participate, and although C.S. was alleged to have significant go kart experience, plaintiff had alleged that C.S. had announced his intention to drive dangerously before the race in front of the facility’s employees.

The Court further agreed with the plaintiff that even if the facility’s employees should have acted to prevent the harm, it did not absolve the mother of concurrent liability for negligent entrustment.  Moreover, the Court noted that “given the intelligence and cognitive limitations” of C.S. and the dangerous nature of go karts, questions of fact existed “as to whether the parents should have entrusted C.S. with the complete control of the go-kart that afternoon.”  Plaintiff had also highlighted the fact that the alleged father of C.S. had a long-term relationship with the facility, having represented the facility’s owner as an attorney prior to the incident.  Plaintiff contended that such prior relationship called into question any statement made by the facility’s employees in favor of the parents.

In his motion, plaintiff argued that C.S.’s aggressive driving was a clear violation of the standard of reasonable care and conduct expected on the ride, as well as the standard of reasonable care in the operation of any motorized vehicle that can cause injury.  However, the Court held that it was premature for it to determine whether the automobile negligence standard applied to the incident.  The Court explained, “Regardless of whether the go-kart collision that Plaintiff describes would or would not constitute negligence, there is still a triable issue of fact as to whether the collision occurred at all.”  Therefore, the Court denied plaintiff’s motion.

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