In May 2010, chickens on the grounds of Parx racetrack outside of Philadelphia spooked the horse upon which exercise rider Mario Calderon sat. The horse threw Mr. Calderon off and he died from the injuries he received. A jury ordered Parx to pay $7.8 million to Mr. Calderon’s family because it found that the track should have known the chickens posed the type of danger that killed him and they allowed them to exist on their grounds. Just recently, a Pennsylvania appellate court upheld the judgment.
What was Parx’s response? Make sure their grounds are free from hazards and safer to the people that work and make a living there? No. Parx responded by attempting to force all of the jockeys riding at the track to essentially sign waivers of liability. Parx conditioned the jockeys’ ability to ride at the track on signing the waiver. The waiver reportedly included terms that required any claims to go through arbitration and limited the authority of an arbitrator to assess damages. The form also would give the track the absolute ability to remove a jockey from its grounds.
As an attorney who is also a huge horse racing fan, these actions concern me. Race tracks need take responsibility for their property. If hazards and dangers exist on the grounds that make it unsafe to those who work or visit there, then address them. It is pretty common knowledge that thoroughbreds can be high strung animals and prone to getting spooked. So, why not take a look around and eliminate things that can spook horses, which can seriously injure or kill someone? Sure, no property owner can make their place absolutely safe, but anything within reason should be done instead of just maintaining unsafe practices and trying to keep those who may get hurt because of them from holding you responsible.
These forced arbitration clauses continue to creep into many aspects of our consumer and work lives. They show up in credit card, mobile telephone, employment and nursing home agreements or paperwork, to name a few. They show up in places where the consumer or worker has no true and real bargaining power. If you do not like it and do not agree to it, then you will not get the credit card, telephone, job or admission into the nursing home. The problem comes when our courts uphold these one-sided agreements, which has happened all to frequently. Fortunately, organizations and movements out there exist to fight these insidious clauses. One such movement is Take Justice Back. TJB is a pro-civil justice movement that fights the well-funded interests, such as the big businesses and industries, that want to use these clauses. It sees forced arbitration as an avenue to keep ordinary people from holding these more powerful interests accountable in a courtroom with a jury rather than in an arbitration where the deck is stacked in favor of the company who wrote the clause.
The 7th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees us a right to a trial by jury and thereby access to the courthouse when we need it. Let’s keep it that way.