03/17/2015 10:50AM

Parx attorney says riders still can sue track for negligence

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An attorney for Parx racetrack outside of Philadelphia said on Tuesday that language in a document distributed to riders as a condition of being eligible for insurance coverage does not prohibit riders from suing the racetrack.

The attorney, Frank McDonnell, said the language asserting that jockeys “acknowledge” the risks of riding horses would not prevent a rider from suing the racetrack in the event of negligence by the track or another party. In addition, McDonnell said that language in the document limiting riders seeking legal recourse to the Bucks County, Pa., court system was the most important part of the document to Parx as it seeks to shield its lucrative casino operations from liability.

McDonnell’s comments are the first made publicly by any official for Parx since a dispute erupted late last year between management and riders over the language, which legal counsel for riders have described as unacceptable. The dispute is threatening to jeopardize Parx’s live-racing operations beginning Saturday, two days after a deadline set by the track for riders to sign forms that will make them eligible for a new insurance policy going into effect Thursday.

McDonnell acknowledged that the new language was put into the documents as a result of a judgment lost last year by Parx in which a jury in Philadelphia awarded $7.8 million to the family of an exercise rider killed in 2010. The jury ruled that chickens on the backstretch spooked the horse, and that Parx was aware of the danger posed by the animals. Parx has appealed the judgment.

McDonnell said that Parx “has a bull’s-eye on its back” in the Philadelphia court system, spurring the company to limit riders to seeking legal recourse in neighboring Bucks County, where Parx is located. In addition to its racetrack – which receives tens of millions of dollars in subsidies each year from casino revenue – Parx runs the largest casino in the Philadelphia area, and a company’s total assets are usually used as a foundation for determining legal liability.

“It doesn’t stop them from suing us if we’re negligent, it just means they have to go to Bucks County, which is where we are,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said horsemen signed a similar document last year, at the time that the track first issued a form to jockeys containing the language acknowledging risks.

Approximately 50 riders at Parx and at racetracks near Philadelphia have informed the track that they will not ride unless the language is removed, according to the Jockeys’ Guild, which has provided legal counsel to riders at the track. Michael Ballezzi, the executive director of the organization representing horsemen at Parx, said on Monday that trainers will “honor” the riders’ refusals.

An overnight for Saturday’s nine-race card at Parx includes three jockeys named on mounts, but all three have few recent race rides.  

McDonnell said that Parx officials plan to meet on Tuesday to discuss a strategy “internally” for dealing with the dispute.

Victor More than 1 year ago
Unless this contract contains any type of "hold harmless" clauses, it seems that the only real change in the language pertains to jurisdiction. Parx wants a binding agreement that all legal matters are arbitrated within the same jurisdiction as the racino while the jockeys' union wants to be able to litigate cases in the city, a jurisdiction more prone to offering anti-business juries and to award greatly inflated judgments. OBVIOUSLY, the lawyers representing the jockeys and their union will NEVER agree to any such clause despite the fact that Parx is perfectly within their legal rights as a business entity to demand such an agreement provided that it does not demand any waivers from liability. Of course, you know, this will be yet another hurdle in the ongoing stalemate with Stronach because Mid-Atlantic is taking advantage of every excuse it can to drag this out into the Spring thinking that Monarch will eventually cave. They've already said "no" to a deal that didn't include Rosecroft pending settlement of its arbitration case. Parx has said "no" to a standalone deal with Stronach for, reportedly, very favorable terms for Parx. Mid-Atlantic refused a standalone deal with Meadowlands that would have included all 22 of its members. They've refused to extend the now-expired contract while current negotiations have been taking place. Mid-Atlantic had made it very clear that it gets everything it demands for the price it demands, or "F.U." to their continuously-shrinking customer base, knowing that bought-off the bureaucrats in Harrisburgh to put regulations in place that protect them from outside competition from ADW's like Xpressbet.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Yes, we all have the "right to sue" just as we have the "right" to hit a Powerball Jackpot.
Victor More than 1 year ago
"Jury shopping" has been standard practice for years - their court of-choice being the 9th Circuit court in CA. Liberal activists and unions always seek to have their cases litigated in major cities where they're much more likely to score liberal anti-business judges and juries. Corporations are finally beginning to get wise to this practice and are taking legal steps to ensure that any legal cases are litigated within the jurisdictions in which the parties are located and the subject of the litigation has occurred which, BTW, is the entire purpose of "jurisdictional authority" as defined in the federal statutes to begin with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It says right in this article that Parx "receives tens of millions of dollars in subsidies each year from casino revenue" in other words the racetrack is a liability . If the Jockeys don't come to a agreement soon I fell this could go on for a long time as Parx is more interested in Casino gambling then they are in horse racing. Lets hope this gets settled soon.
kmunster2003 More than 1 year ago
As a physician I can tell you that During Rendell's era malpractice attorneys tried to move many cases to Philadelphia from Lehigh County knowing that such jurors were more likely to rule for plaintiff. So I can understand PARX view that cases in Bucks Country would be adjudicated more fairly. There is a lottery mentality in poor areas and they are definitely anti business ,doctors etc. Lawyers always search for "deep" pockets and uneducated jurors. Take care. Kevin M>