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Court: Mud buggy race operators weren’t negligent in crash

July 31, 2018

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A jury properly determined that the operators of an Eau Claire mud buggy race weren’t negligent in a wild crash that cost a spectator part of his leg, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The case revolves around Shawn Wallace, who was watching a race at Eau Claire’s Pioneer Park in 2012 when a buggy hit a guardrail, flew off the track and landed in the crowd. Wallace was injured so badly he had to have one of his legs amputated below the knee.

He filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging that the track’s owner, Chippewa Valley Antique and Engine Model Club Inc., and the race’s sanctioning body, Central Mudracing Association Inc., had been negligent.

The jury at the 2016 trial found that the accident was unforeseeable and that neither defendant had been negligent.

Wallace appealed, arguing that Eau Claire County Circuit Judge William Gabler had improperly barred him from telling the jury about a 2005 crash at the track that injured spectators and had improperly limited a crash reconstruction expert’s testimony.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals sided with the judge. The court said in its ruling Tuesday that Gabler reasonably determined that the 2005 crash wasn’t similar to the 2012 incident.

The earlier crash occurred on a different part of the track, the spectators who were injured were viewing the race from a truck, not the bleachers, and the track operators extended guardrails following that crash, the appeals court noted. Therefore the crash was of little value in Wallace’s case, the court concluded.

As for the crash reconstruction expert’s testimony, the appeals court agreed with Gabler’s decision that the witness had no experience with mud buggies or mud track design.

Wallace’s attorney, Adam Nicolet, said he respects the appellate decision but still thinks the 2005 accident should have been admissible because it shows the 2012 accident was foreseeable and more action should have been taken to protect spectators. He said he was conferring with Wallace about appealing to the state Supreme Court.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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