Mich. court rules for spectators run over by snowmobile at race

By Gabriel Neves | Nov 1, 2018

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) – The case of two snowmobile race attendees who were injured has had a change, as the decision has been reversed by an appellate court.

The panel of justices at the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a five-page ruling on Oct. 16, reversing the Ontonagon Circuit Court decision in the lawsuit filed by Tory Baughan and Megan MacNeill against Mid America Snow and Terrain Expert Racers, doing business as Masters Racing Circuit; Derek Zimney; and Polaris Industries Inc.

"In this interlocutory appeal, plaintiff Tory Baughan appeals by leave granted the trial court’s order granting in part and denying in part defendant’s motion for summary disposition, in which it ruled that a 'recklessness' standard of care applies to plaintiff’s negligence claim. We reverse the trial court’s ruling and hold that defendant is subject to a duty of ordinary care," the ruling states.

Baughan and MacNeill sued Masters Racing, Zimney and Polaris over allegations of negligence, premises liability, gross negligence, and willful and wanton misconduct, as they were hurt when Zimney, who was one of the racers, fell from his snowmobile and his snowmobile hit the two spectators.

Masters Racing filed motions for summary judgment, but those were deniedAs a result of the motion, the circuit court dismissed MacNeill's claims of negligence as she signed an agreement that waived any liability.

The event took place in February 2012, when MacNeill and Baughan were injured while watching the race, per the ruling, "within a designated and unprotected spectator area." Zimney's snowmobile, according to the ruling, "continued to travel back down the hill at a high rate of speed before colliding with the plaintiffs."

In its ruling, the panel stated that the defendants were "subject to a duty of ordinary care," reversing the "recklessness" judgment issued by the Circuit Court.

The panel raised the issue of the language interpretation found in a section of the Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL), in which points that people who participate in snowmobile assumes risks, in an attempt to dismiss the claims.

"Beyond the statute’s applicability to persons 'who participate in the sport of snowmobiling,' and plaintiff’s status as a spectator, its language supports our conclusion that the applicable standard with respect to a spectator is ordinary care," the panel stated.

Judges William B. Murphy, David H. Sawyer and Brock A. Swartzle wrote the opinion.

Michigan Court of Appeals case number 338036

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