Comment On The Baja 500 Tragedy

BY: ORLANDO GOTAY

Barely a mile from the start, the 2016 Baja 500 race in Ensenada claimed the life of an 8 year old that had come to watch the race.  The child’s mother was injured as well.  Video circulating in social media shows an event vehicle careening off a bank toward spectators.  In the audio portion, an unseen witness by the videographer can be heard repeatedly saying “te lo dije” (“I told you so”).

It is a tragic incident indeed.  There is no disagreement on that.  What has fueled debate, however, is the question of who are the responsible parties here, and what, if anything can be learned from this sad turn of events.

On social media, the battle lines were immediately drawn.  Some blame the child’s parents for “putting him” in harm’s way.  Others point at the possibility that safety measures in a crowed race departure in downtown were inadequate, insufficient, or non functional at best.

What troubles me the most is that some seem to believe that an “anything goes” safety free attitude is essential to the character of races in Baja, for otherwise, they would be adrenaline free, like ones north of the border.

It is one thing to have much sympathy for a spectator that darts out, past race monitors into the racecourse itself and ends injured.

What is clear to me is that race event organizers have both a moral and very likely, a legal duty to provide a safe event for spectators.  I’m not breaking new ground here.  In a 2008 California Court of Appeals opinion, where SCORE was sued over injuries to a spectator in another race in the Baja, the Court of Appeals held that SCORE had a duty to organize and conduct a reasonably safe event with respect to race spectators.  At that time, SCORE claimed it had no control over spectators, yet the courts still ruled that nonetheless, SCORE had a duty to minimize risks to those spectators.

The matter of liability aside, there is the broader question of the general way in which inherently dangerous activities such as these are allowed to unfold, and whether events that are inherently dangerous to spectators are in the best interests of tourism.  To be sure, the most recent death has received worldwide coverage.  The Times of London even reported on it.

Is it worth it?

One particularly tart commenter said “[w]e cannot change the way races proceed anymore than we can change any other part of the attitude toward it”.  Can we?

Others spoke of “traditions” and my mind raced to think of “old traditions” and “institutions” we have found to be repugnant as our mores and enlightenment evolve. Recently, bullfights are in the cross hairs of those who think that activity is no longer acceptable.  With respect to races, perhaps it is time to meaningfully reassess spectator safety, so that these events may be allowed to continue in a way beneficial to all. I don’t think races are repugnant, but indifference to life certainly fits the bill.

Orlando Gotay is a tax attorney and regular contributor to Gringo Gazette.