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.