Kristin Bianculli (Melanie Bell)
Despite signing liability waivers, a former mud racer left paralyzed in a racing accident obtained a $1 million settlement.
Kelly/Uustal attorneys Todd Falzone and Kristin Bianculli of Fort Lauderdale represented Tommy Walker Jr., 45, a single father who was injured in the 2009 Redneck Games in Bithlo.
The Altamonte Springs man sued Orlando-based Bithlo Motorsports LLC, Bithlo Racing Sports LLC and race organizers William Pixley, Chris Duckett and Margaret Hensinger in Orange Circuit Court in 2011.
Because of the signed waivers, the defendants argued Walker had no right to sue for negligence. His cause of action was gross negligence, which Bianculli noted is much more difficult to prove. The circumstances of the race, however, and the catastrophic result justified a gross negligence claim, Pixley’s attorneys insisted.
The rear tires of six races had cut into the dirt. Rather than level the track, the race operators reversed the direction of travel for the seventh race.
Walker was in his customized pickup on the U-shaped track and leading the three-truck race. He approached the end of the dirt track at about 50 mph, Falzone said.
Walker’s truck jumped the rut dug in an earlier race, flew through the air and slammed head-on into a bulldozer set as a barricade about 100 feet from the finish line for the safety of the fans.
“The thing that was the most shocking was, given the direction he’s facing at the starting line, Tommy couldn’t see the bulldozer. They moved the bulldozer after he was at the start line,” Falzone said.
During depositions by the defendants, Falzone recalled they kept correcting him when he referred to the bulldozer as a tractor.
“They refused to call the bulldozer a bulldozer, they kept calling it a mobile barricade,” he said.
Over the past four years, Walker underwent 17 hip surgeries. Doctors finally removed his hip.
“They tried multiple times to put in a prosthetic hip, each one failed due to infection,” Falzone said. “He now literally has no bone connection between his leg and his pelvis.”
Falzone said Walker cannot walk and will be wheelchair-bound for life. Walker was a welder and did some construction work. He can no longer work, Falzone said.
The trial was set for March, but the parties settled on Feb. 24 for $1 million, the limit of the insurance policy.
“The award will help Tommy take care of himself and his son,” Falzone said. “We cannot undo the damage, but we can make his life better.”
Falzone said of the bulldozer is still being used as a mobile barricade.
“They had a race there a month ago, and they did the same thing,” he said.
Fans of the event recorded video on their cell phones, and the crash can be seen on YouTube at “Bithlo 9-13-09 Truck Crash.”