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The Skip Barber Racing School has successfully used employee Robert Brown’s signed waiver of future negligence claims to escape from his personal-injury suit against the school, a fellow instructor, a car company and defensive driving student Diane Sol. Sol was taking her final exam in crash avoidance when she and her instructor allegedly skidded 60 feet and struck Brown on the Lime Rock Race Track in Salisbury. The racing school, represented by Christopher M. Vossler of Connecticut’s Howd & Ludorf, invoked language from the state Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Hyson v. White Water Mountain Resorts. In that case, snow-tubing patron Francesca Hyson was not bound by the release she signed, because it didn’t specifically say she was releasing the resort from liability for its own negligence — only “the inherent risks of snow tubing.” The high court shied away from making a ruling on the difficult public policy question of upholding the waiver of a party’s future negligent acts: “[W]e do not reach the issue of whether a well-drafted agreement purporting to have such an effect would be enforceable,” Chief Justice William J. Sullivan wrote. Ruling last month on Brown’s suit, Litchfield Superior Court Judge Robert C. Brunetti relied on Hyson to grant summary judgment for the racing school, on the basis of its release. In it, the signer assumed the risk of injury or death in any restricted area “whether caused by the negligence of the releases or otherwise.” The word “negligence” appeared in five separate paragraphs. Brunetti cited language from Hyson “that a party cannot be released from liability for injuries resulting from its future negligence in the absence of language that expressly so provides,” and concluded “the language in this release meets the standard set forth in Hyson.” Michael A. Stratton, of Connecticut’s Stratton Faxon, had challenged the release as ambiguous, unclear and hence invalid. A skeptical Brunetti wrote that Brown “postures that he did not understand what event the release referred to, and that he did not see or read the body of the release.” The judge cited the general rule in Connecticut that, when a mature person who can read and write signs or accepts a formal written contract affecting his pecuniary interests, it is the person’s duty to read it, and if he negligently fails to do so, notice of its contents will be imputed. Stratton said he’s not sure whether his client will appeal the driving school’s individual win, since the most important of three remaining defendants is the lessor of the car involved, Daimler Chrysler. But he dismissed the idea of a sports exception for such waivers: “Driving a car into a pedestrian is not a recreational sport.”

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