Judge rules against fans in Lowe's bridge collapse

Updated: July 5, 2006, 8:21 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Four NASCAR fans injured in the post-race collapse of a pedestrian bridge in 2000 cannot seek damages from Lowe's Motor Speedway, the state's Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The three-judge panel unanimously determined that the lawsuits, filed in 2004, came too long after the bridge was constructed in September 1995. State law protects manufacturers from negligence lawsuits after six years under the premise that a product, such as a walking bridge, will eventually deteriorate and fail over time.

More than 100 people were injured, some seriously, on May 20, 2000, when an 80-foot section of the walkway fell 25 feet onto a highway in Concord. Fans were crossing to a nearby parking lot after a NASCAR all-star race.

Investigators have said the bridge builder, Tindall Corp., used an improper additive to help the concrete filler at the bridge's center dry faster. The additive contained calcium chloride, which corroded the structure's steel cables and led to the collapse.

"While the incident happened at our speedway, we were in no way responsible," raceway attorney David Allen said. "The only negligence in this case was Tindall's."

In the only negligence verdict resulting from the collapse, Tindall had to pay a portion of a $4 million jury award to a Virginia couple in 2003. Jurors in that case also found that the racetrack breached a contract with the state Department of Transportation by not completing appropriate inspections, so the two sides shared the cost of the award.

Most of the rest of the nearly 50 lawsuits filed against the speedway have been settled out of court and Allen said he expects the few remaining lawsuits to conclude by the end of the year.

The lead lawyer representing the fans who took their cases to the appellate court said they will consider appealing to the state Supreme Court to win the right to jury trials.

"We are obviously disappointed with the decision," lawyer Kevin Cartledge said. "It is essentially going to leave my clients without any recovery for their injuries."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press