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7th Circuit issues U.S. Grand Prix ruling

May 25, 2007

Race fans have a reason to watch the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today.

As the Indianapolis 500 weekend kicks off, the Circuit Court has issued a decision fitting the mood - one involving the notorious U.S. Grand Prix race in 2005. The unanimous decision today comes in Larry Bowers, Alan G. Symons, Carey Johnson, et al. v. Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, Formula One Administration Limited, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp., et al.

The ruling affirms a 2006 ruling from U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Baker in Indianapolis - she threw out the 10 class action suits that were consolidated into one action where fans sought punitive damages as well as compensatory damages for ticket costs, travel expenses and food.

Unhappy fans sued following the tire performance mishap two years ago, where all 14 cars running on Michelin tires withdrew from the race.

Judge Barker ruled that the fans had no basis for the lawsuit. "It's to be assumed that the Michelin teams made the decision they believed to be in their best competitive and professional interests, and in doing so, they owed no legal duty to let the preferences of the spectators trump their own good judgment," Judge Barker wrote.

In its 14-page ruling today, the three Circuit judges affirmed the dismissal of breach of contract and tortuous interference, promissory estoppel, and negligence claims.

"But while a six-car race under the Regulations may be less rich, interesting, or challenging than a 12-car race, it is not prohibited or nonsensical under the rules (like a soccer match between three teams or a basketball team getting a first down)," Circuit Judge Richard D. Cudahy wrote. "These rules cannot be interpreted to impose a 'minimum car' requirement. There is no reason to claim, as the plaintiffs in all seriousness do, that no race occurred."

He added that sports fans had to understand in this case that any number of events - such as dangerous track conditions, sudden illnesses, or an accident - could always prevent a driver from participating and that it would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.

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