Volunteer falls from back of golf cart

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Verdicts & Settlements: Transportation

December 11, 2012

Volunteer falls from back of golf cart 

Roderick Jenks, 47, volunteered to work at a charity event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He and another volunteer asked Breann Thompson, who worked at the snack bar, if she could drive them to their work assignment in her E-Z-GO two-seat golf cart. She agreed, and Jenks climbed onto the back of the cart, while the other volunteer rode in the front. When Thompson swerved suddenly, Jenks was ejected from the back of the cart and struck his head on the pavement.

Jenks suffered a traumatic brain injury and underwent emergency surgery to relieve brain swelling. He now suffers from severe short-term memory loss, impaired judgment and decision-making, delayed thought processing, and problems with peripheral vision. His past medical expenses totaled about $662,500, and his future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at between $1.99 million and $2.33 million.

At the time of the incident, Jenks was earning about $20,000 annually operating his own lawn care business and another $10,000 annually working part-time as a school bus driver. He is now permanently disabled. His past lost earnings totaled about $392,200.

Jenks and his wife sued Textron, the manufacturer of the golf cart, in New Hampshire federal court, alleging that the cart lacked adequate warnings about the risks of transporting a passenger on the back. The plaintiffs contended that the only warning—a small decal on the cart’s dashboard—was too small to have been seen by anyone on the back of the cart. The plaintiffs argued that it was highly foreseeable that riders would occasionally sit on cart’s rear platform, which was designed for golf bags.

The plaintiffs also sued Thompson and the speedway-owned snack bar where she worked, alleging that she had operated the cart in a reckless and negligent manner by failing to maintain proper control of it. Suit against the speedway alleged failure to properly train and supervise Thompson on safe operation of the cart and vicarious liability for her negligent operation of the vehicle.

In addition to medical expenses and past lost earnings, the plaintiffs sought future lost earnings and benefits based on Jenks’s work-life expectancy of 15 years had he not been injured.

The plaintiffs settled with Thompson and the speedway before trial for confidential amounts, and the case proceeded against Textron.

Textron blamed the incident on Thompson’s negligent operation of the cart and Jenks’s negligence in riding on the back. The defense also argued that the danger was open and obvious and that the existing dashboard warning was adequate.

During the proceedings, the U.S. district court predicted that the New Hampshire Supreme Court would recognize a postsale duty to warn under Restatement (Third) of Torts §10. The plaintiffs were prepared to show that Textron was aware of the danger of riding on the back of the cart when it was sold in 1997 and that after selling the vehicle, the company became aware of injuries to passengers riding in the back, including one death.

The parties settled during trial for a confidential amount.

Citation: Jenks v. New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Inc., No. 1:09-cv-00205 (D.N.H. Oct. 24, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: R. Peter Decato and William A. Whitten, both of Lebanon, N.H.; and Mark V. Franco, Daniel R. Mawhinney, and Elizabeth K. Peck, all of Portland, Maine.

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