Johnson County, Kansas Law Firm Reaches Successful Settlement In Wrongful Death Litigation

Published June 29, 2016 | By admin

The law firm of Clyde & Wood, LLC announces the final settlement in the case involving the wrongful death of Hannah Deaver, a 17 year old female, who was killed July 31, 2010, when a car racing in the Lyon County Mud-A-Thon lost control, left the track, and landed on Hannah causing fatal injuries. The racing car was being driven by Marvin Jenkins of Wichita, Kansas. A Mud-A-Thon is a racing competition in which cars with very powerful engines and large tires race through a mud pit. The race was held on the Lyon County fairgrounds. The fairgrounds are owned by the Board of Commissioners of the County of Lyon and the Mud-A-Thon was organized and conducted by the Lyon County Fairboard. Security at the fair was provided by Silverson Security (Silverson), an outside firm.

The firm, through lead counsel, Dennis Clyde, first brought claims on behalf of Hannah’s parents against The Board of Commissioners of the County of Lyon (hereinafter "BOC") and Marvin Jenkins in September, 2011. After learning of the involvement of the Lyon County Fairboard (hereinafter "Fairboard") and Silverson, the plaintiffs later amended their pleadings to include the other two defendants.

In early 2013, Silverson entered into a confidential settlement with plaintiffs and was dismissed from the case. After two years of litigation, in the summer of 2013, the governmental entities, (Fairboard and BOC), filed motions for summary judgment claiming immunity under the Kansas Tort Claims Act. Because the incident occurred on property designed and used for recreational purposes, the plaintiffs were required to show the Fairboard and the BOC were culpable of more than ordinary negligence, but that their conduct rose to the level of gross and wanton, constituting a reckless disregard for spectators at the race. The defendants argued the plaintiffs could not meet the required burden of proof.

Plaintiffs argued the evidence clearly showed gross and wanton conduct on the part of the governmental entities. Plaintiffs were able to show the Fairboard and BOC deliberately undertook holding mud races with no experience or training on the part of any of the members in charge of the race. Further, the evidence showed the defendants conducted no research or investigation into safety considerations for "Mud- A-Thons." Although there were a number of guidelines and safety rules available from sanctioned racing organizations, the Fairboard never looked at them and never consulted with experienced racers or promoters.

Moreover, the only 2 rules the Fairboard had implemented for the safety of spectators were both ignored. No spectators were to be allowed past the finish line or within 25 feet, laterally, of the track. The Fairboard knew the mud racers were operating vehicles capable of 1,000 to 3,000 horsepower and with tires as large as 44 inches. The Fairboard failed to have any procedure in place by which to assure the rules were followed and allowed both rules to be violated by numerous spectators. Additionally, there was evidence the area from which Hannah Deaver was watching was supposed to have been roped off, but the Fairboard failed to do so. Evidence further revealed the Fairboard had failed to discuss and review its own rules for spectator safety for many years and, as a result, most of the members working the race were ignorant of the rules.

Perhaps most egregious was the fact there had been a prior incident of a race car losing control and leaving the track at the precise location from where Hannah was allowed to watch. Finally, immediately before the race, Monte Ross, a spectator familiar with mud racing, walked on to the track and told one of the officials the many spectators watching from past the finish line were in danger. The response was to tell Mr. Ross to get off the track.

Despite the evidence, in July, 2013 the district court in Sedgwick County, Kansas dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against the Fairboard and BOC, finding insufficient evidence of gross and wanton negligence. Thereafter, the plaintiffs appealed and in 2015 the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, finding the evidence sufficient and sending the case back to Wichita for trial. The case was then set for trial in June, 2016. Shortly before trial, the plaintiffs successfully obtained confidential settlements from all three remaining defendants, Fairboard, BOC and Marvin Jenkins. The litigation is a showpiece for determination and stamina on the part of both Hannah’s parents and their attorneys, Clyde & Wood, LLC.1 Most cases against governmental entities for injuries or death occurring on recreational property (ball fields, swimming pools, fairgrounds, gyms, etc.) are thrown out because of the difficulty in proving the higher standard of gross and wanton conduct. This unique success came after years of hard work.

1 Clyde & Wood, LLC handles personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout Kansas, including Johnson, Wyandotte, Miami, Linn, Douglas, Sedgwick and other counties. Firm cases include injuries and death from auto, truck, motorcycle, medical negligence and other claims. The firm, located in the Kansas City area, also handles cases in the Western District of Missouri and has co-counseled in numerous jurisdictions. For more information visit the firm’s website at www.clydeandwood.com or call 1-800-207-0149 or 913-663-4446 or email info@clydeandwood.com.