Blog: Race Should Have Been Stopped Before Lightning Struck

On Sunday, one fan was killed and nine others were injured, one critically, as a result of a lightning strike at Pocono Raceway. The lightning strikes came right after the scheduled 160-lap race was called on account of rain on Lap 98, shortly before 5 p.m. While lighting is considered an "Act of God," and therefore damages are generally not recoverable from resulting injuries, a facility does have an obligation to warn those attending a race of potential dangers. Officials at Pocono Raceway said that, shortly before the strike, a warning was issued on the public address system that inclement weather was on the way, but no order was given to evacuate the stands. In addition, facility personnel issued warnings on Twitter and Facebook at 4:21 p.m. that severe weather was on the way and, shortly before 5 p.m., that fans should seek shelter because heavy winds and lightning were in the area.

So, the question is, did track operators do enough?

Sending warnings on Twitter and Facebook is clearly not enough: You need to tell every spectator at the race of the immediate danger, not just those with a smartphone. Second, it is clear from press reports that not every spectator heard the warnings over the public address system before the lightning struck.

Based on this evidence, Pocono Raceway and NASCAR, whose duty it is to stop a race with inclement weather in the area, will be hard-pressed to avoid a negligence claim for not giving spectators enough of a warning of the impending weather and determine an evacuation process.

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