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Carrera GT Crashes Into Court
Exploring the legal implications - and unfortunate consequences - of powerful cars in amateur hands

The wall had been placed closer to the track to enlarge the area behind it for use as a children's play area


Last summer, a number of SCM readers were glued to the Internet, viewing the pictures and reading the extensive chatter about a horrific crash at the California Speedway.
Ben Keaton and his passenger, Corey Rudl, were both killed when Keaton's Porsche Carrera GT crashed into a wall at an estimated speed of about 145 mph during a Ferrari Owners Club track day.
The crash photographs were sobering, and the Internet stories were engrossing. Added interest came from the fact that Keaton and Rudl, at 39 and 34 respectively, were both very successful young men. Rudl, in particular, was well known as an Internet marketing guru.
LAWSUIT FILED
Predictably, the lawsuit has been filed. Rudl's wife Tracey filed suit against a long list of defendants, seeking an unspecified amount of damages for her husband's wrongful death. She is represented by Craig McClellan, a very successful San Diego-area personal injury attorney who made a name for himself in the '80s when he represented a plaintiff who successfully sued Porsche on the theory that their 911 Turbo was too difficult a car to handle to be sold to inexperienced drivers.
"Legal Files" interviewed McClellan to learn more about the case. First off, Craig is no enemy of sports car manufacturers and aficionados. He is an ex-racer, having started in SCCA club racing in 1968 with an Elva Courier, then moving to an MG Midget, an Austin Healey 3000, and a number of other race cars. He has no beef with Porsche, and is a former owner himself. He also takes no credit for having caused Porsche to abandon the U.S. market with its 911 Turbo, as that happened about a year before he filed his lawsuit. However, he points out, "When they returned to the market with the 911 Turbo, they offered driver training to all their customers."
THE REAL STORY
There were many versions of the story broadcast on the Internet, all at least partially true. According to McClellan, here's what really happened. Keaton had told several people that he had been having handling problems with the Carrera GT. Apparently, it was tail-happy. He decided to take it to the Ferrari Owners Club track day and see if he could work things out. Rudl had taken his Lamborghini to the track day, but it suffered from overheating. He was telling friends that he should sell it and get something else. Keaton, who did not know Rudl, suggested a Carrera GT and offered to give him a ride and show him what the Porsche was like.
As the Porsche was completing a lap, the flagman sent a Ferrari onto the front straight. The driver hesitated, then started late and slow. The flagman saw the Porsche come onto the straight and tried to stop the Ferrari, but it was passing him by then, and neither the driver nor passenger noticed his waving arms or heard his shouts.
The Ferrari continued onto the straight at a relatively slow speed, just as the Carrera GT caught it. Keaton swerved to avoid contact, the Porsche's rear came around, and it skidded into a concrete barrier wall. The wall had been placed closer to the track than its original position in order to enlarge the area behind it for use as a children's play area during an earlier NASCAR race. The end result was the fatal crash.
THE CLAIMS
The lawsuit asserts a number of claims against several defendants. The more significant are:
• Keaton Estate - Failure to inform Rudl that he had been having handling problems with the Porsche, and that he had a recent incident where he lost control of the car.
• Racetrack owners and operators - Maintaining an unsafe racetrack as a result of inadequate maintenance, signage, and safety controls, and not moving back the concrete barriers after creating the children's play area.
• Ferrari Owners Club and the flagman - Negligently operating the track day by sending the Ferrari onto the track at the wrong time, violating their own rules by allowing passengers in the cars, failing to disclose Keaton's dangerous driving propensities, and allowing the track day to occur without moving the concrete barriers back to where they belonged.
• Ferrari driver - Not paying attention to the flagman, entering the track improperly, driving too slowly, and moving directly into the path of the Porsche.
• Porsche - Product liability for selling an unsafe car. This falls into three levels of defect.
1. There was some mechanical problem with this particular car that made it handle badly.
2. There are design defects with the Carrera GT that make it a poor-handling car, mainly tail-happy.
3. Third: The Carrera GT is too difficult a car to handle at high speeds for the average driver without instruction.

WHAT ABOUT THE RELEASE?
"Legal Files" recently addressed the enforceability of releases given by track participants and concluded that they are generally enforceable if the injuries are sustained by hazards that are contemplated at the time the release is given. This case tests the effect of the release signed by Rudl in two ways. One is that it alleges that the track owner and operators managed it in an unsafe manner and contrary to established safety standards for racetracks. In other words, they didn't have to make it as safe as the street, but they did have to make it safe as racetracks go. The other is that it alleges that numerous pertinent facts were concealed from Rudl, and he therefore did not give an informed consent.
CLAIMS ABOUT THE CAR
The claims about the Carrera GT itself are likely of most interest to us. Whether there was a mechanical issue with this particular car, or whether the Carrera GT design is inherently unstable, are matters that are best left to the engineers to debate.
But the claim that the Carrera GT is too hot to handle is something that all of us can think about. And this isn't just Porsche's problem. Clearly, the same claims can be made against other supercars, such as the Ford GT, the Enzo, and a host of others. A quick Internet search will locate sites whose function is to display photos of wrecked supercars, typified by http://www.wreckedexotics.com. It isn't hard to conclude that many of these cars are sold to owners who have far more cash than driving skill. And it's probably realistic to assume that these owners are not going to recognize their limitations and will succumb to the desire to drive these cars "the way they were meant to be driven," sometimes with disastrous consequences for themselves and others.
Should the manufacturers be required to qualify owners before selling these cars to them? How are they supposed to determine qualifications? And should they automatically be held liable when they sell supercars to owners who can't handle them?
McClellan says, "No, Porsche should only be liable because this car was defective." But then he adds, "It is defective, however, if the risks of its design outweigh the benefits. If its power and handling characteristics make it too dangerous for the average driver without training or instruction, then it is defective. Porsche should be liable because it sold a defective vehicle to Ben Keaton."
I certainly can't profess to have the answers to all of these questions, but I think this case is going to answer some of them after it works its way through the legal system. We'll keep you informed.
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (MattsMk2)

This is ugly. I can understand her frustration, but I really don't know who else to pin liability on..I'm not qualified to do any sort of armchair CSI here.
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (MattsMk2)

Quote, originally posted by MattsMk2 »
She is represented by Craig McClellan, a very successful San Diego-area personal injury attorney who made a name for himself in the '80s when he represented a plaintiff who successfully sued Porsche on the theory that their 911 Turbo was too difficult a car to handle to be sold to inexperienced drivers.

Haaaaa1 http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif
Awesome legal system.
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (MattsMk2)

Quote, originally posted by MattsMk2 »
McClellan says, "No, Porsche should only be liable because this car was defective." But then he adds, "It is defective, however, if the risks of its design outweigh the benefits. If its power and handling characteristics make it too dangerous for the average driver without training or instruction, then it is defective. Porsche should be liable because it sold a defective vehicle to Ben Keaton."

Given how many accidents we have here i the U.S., I'd say this would apply to any vehicle over 100hp.
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (jman1423)

Quote, originally posted by jman1423 »
saying porsche is liable for a racing accident is like saying the gun manufacturer is responsible for dick cheney's hunting accident.

The only difference being the gun did exactly as it was designed to do: hit a target.
 

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I'm glad idiots in America are so predictable. Didn't everyone here predict this lawsuit the minute we heard about the crash? ANY sympathy I had for her and her loss went right out the window.
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (Astronaut3000)

Quote, originally posted by Astronaut3000 »

Haaaaa1 http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif
Awesome legal system.

Quote, originally posted by rlfletch »
I'm glad idiots in America are so predictable. Didn't everyone here predict this lawsuit the minute we heard about the crash? ANY sympathy I had for her and her loss went right out the window.

What's with you people?
Yes, our legal system is not perfect. But it is a damn sight better than anything else out there.
The way I see it, every single one of those claims have at least some merit to it. But without going into details, let me ask you one simple question:
can you honestly say with 100 percent certainty that there was not a mechanical defect with this particular Carrera GT that made it prone to mishandle when driven at a high speed?
The fact is none of us know the answer to this question until the lawyers get done with the discovery phrase of the case. So stop with your
,
, http://****************.com/smile/emthdown.gif ,
,
, and
. The woman lost her husband, why shouldn't she seek out to hold those are responsible through our legal system?
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (BlueNDGold)

By steping into a car headed onto a track, you are implying acceptance of the possibility that you may not get out again. If you die, thats your own responsibility. People need to act like adults when engaging in these hobbies.
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (sirtophamhat)

Quote, originally posted by sirtophamhat »
By steping into a car headed onto a track, you are implying acceptance of the possibility that you may not get out again. If you die, thats your own responsibility. People need to act like adults when engaging in these hobbies.

Well put. http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (BlueNDGold)

Quote, originally posted by BlueNDGold »
What's with you people?
The fact is none of us know the answer to this question until the lawyers get done with the discovery phrase of the case. So stop with your
,
, http://****************.com/smile/emthdown.gif ,
,
, and
. The woman lost her husband, why shouldn't she seek out to hold those are responsible through our legal system?

Read what I quoted again.
The CGT case seems a bit more founded than the snippet that I quoted. I didn't comment on that case. If any outside party is responsible for her husband's death, then she can sue 'till her heart's content. I'm not going to speculate on the man's driving abilities, track experience, whether or not he could handle such a car at the limit around what sounds like a dangerous turn, etc...
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (BlueNDGold)

Quote, originally posted by BlueNDGold »

What's with you people?
can you honestly say with 100 percent certainty that there was not a mechanical defect with this particular Carrera GT that made it prone to mishandle when driven at a high speed

uhh as far as i know, most cars going 150+ will 'mishandle' when an amature driver performs an evasive manuever
 

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Re: Man Dies In Carrera GT Crash, wife sues multiple people. (MattsMk2)

From a legal standpoint, these are my impressions:
First, the Keaton Estate is likely to be held responsible because he knowingly or unknowingly violated the Ferrari Club's rules regarding passengers and it cost another individual his life.
Second, the Racetrack owners and operators: with regards to the wall, it is part of the facility. I am less sure whether they are liable because I do not know whether the track must abide by a "standard form" which is to say that it must allow a certain amount of room between the wall's claimed distance and its actual distance to the track. If it does indeed violate such a standard, then by all means the track is partially responsible in the eyes of the law.
Third, the Ferrari club and the flagman: it sounds as if the flagman did his job. He apparently did his best to try and stop the Ferrari and, because the car did not pull away quickly, should subsequently have had time to see the warning signs being given and stop the car. Furthermore, the problem likely could have been averted had the Ferrari driver watched and listened attentively to the flagman. In sum, it may not have been good timing to send the car out onto the track with the Porsche coming by, but neither the hesitation nor the oversight of the flagman's final warning were his fault, they are placed on the driver. However, the Ferrari club is most definitely liable because it failed to enforce its own policy regarding passengers.
Much of the accident seems to result from the Ferrari driver's lack of attention. According to the suit, he broke several rules (I'll assume the claims are factually based). If this is the case, he should undoubtedly be held responsible.
The situation with Porsche is much more complicated. If that particular car did indeed suffer from a problem, then the manufacturer may still possibly be exempt because it was an isolated incident which may point to owner's "abuse" or lack of upkeep on the car. Even if there is no abuse, this incident begs the question of whether the company is actually responsible for the car's performance both on public roads and on a racetrack. Someone needs to clarify this point. If the company is only responsible for the car on the street and Porsche did create a car that the average person can handle on the road yet may not be able to handle on the track, they may be exempt because this was an "off road" incident.
Aside from the legal view, I think it's a safe statement that people who are purchasing such cars could pay a little extra in the overall bill to go to a mandatory driving school. I'm sure most would jump at the opportunity to get out and play with their toys in a relatively safe and structured environment. However, in reality, the car companies should not have to provide such services. The logic behind this is that if you buy a Carrera GT or any other exotic car, this does not automatically mean that you will drive it hard or take the car on a racetrack. Unless the car is uncontrollable in road-going circumstances where the driver is following all traffic laws or in a circumstances where necessary, evasive action must be taken, it cannot be deemed as "unsafe" for "normal" use. Thus, the onus should be placed on the owner and his/her confidence and faith in their driving ability and the limits of the car. Stated differently, if you plan to do something above and beyond the normal duties expected of a car, it may require you to spend extra money and time to safely and effectively operate the machine. That's just me, I'm sure there will be quite a bit of disagreement among the forum. But I think we can all agree that this is a tragic incident that should definitely be analyzed so that precautionary measures can better be imposed in the future. I truly feel sorry for both families.
 
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