Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 98-L-939. Honorable A. A. Matoesian and Honorable P. J. O'Neill, Judges, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins
Rule 23 order filed July 2, 2004;
The plaintiff, Waddill Platt, brought this personal injury action in the circuit court of Madison County, charging the defendants, Gateway International Motorsports Corp., Fred A. Grueber, Miller Industries, Miller Industries Towing Equipment, Inc., and Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc., with negligence and willful and wanton conduct. With regard to the plaintiff's allegations of negligence, the circuit court granted a summary judgment for the defendants because the plaintiff had signed an agreement exculpating the defendants from liability. Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 (155 Ill. 2d R. 308), this court allowed the plaintiff's interlocutory appeal.
On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the exculpatory agreement does not bar his negligence allegations against the defendants because the term "event" in the exculpatory agreement was ambiguous and because the parties did not contemplate the risk involved.
As a Marlboro Team Penski public relations employee of Philip Morris, the plaintiff attended various stock and Indy car races, including Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (CART), events. At the CART racing event held at Gateway International Race Track (Gateway) in May 1998, the plaintiff was responsible for hospitality services, i.e., managing hotel rooms for VIP guests, monitoring track signs, feeding the media, and administering cigarette sales incentives. The plaintiff's base of operations was a Marlboro media trailer located on the infield, where the plaintiff was required to cross the racetrack to enter or exit.
On May 22, 1998, prior to qualifying rounds, multiple tow trucks traveling from 55 to 70 miles per hour circled the Gateway racetrack to dry it, a standard postrain practice in the auto racing industry. After being signaled to cross by a Gateway employee, the plaintiff exited the infield by driving across the racetrack and collided with a tow truck driven by the defendant Fred Grueber.
Prior to the collision, on January 13, 1998, the plaintiff executed a "1998 Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc.[,] ANNUAL RELEASE AND WAIVER OF LIABILITY, ASSUMPTION OF RISK[,] AND INDEMNITY AGREEMENT," which provided:
"IN CONSIDERATION of my being granted a membership, license[,] and/or competition privileges in Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (hereinafter known as CART)[,] sanctioned EVENT(S) as a CART and/or American Racing Series, Inc., participant or being permitted to compete, practice, officiate, observe, work for, or for any purpose participate in any capacity in the EVENT(S) for and during the calendar year of 1998 or being permitted to enter for any purpose or in any capacity any RESTRICTED AREAS (defined as any area requiring special authorization, credentials, or permission to enter any area to which admission by the general public is restricted or prohibited), I ***
2. HEREBY RELEASE, WAIVE, DISCHARGE, AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE
Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc., American Racing Series, Inc., the promoters, organizers, participants, racing associations, sanctioning organizations or any subdivision thereof, track operators, track owners, *** any persons in any RESTRICTED AREAS, promoters, sponsors, advertisers, [and] owners, lessees, designers[,] and constructors of premises used to conduct the EVENT(S), *** all for the purpose herein referred to as the RELEASEES, FROM ALL LIABILITY TO ME *** FOR ANY AND ALL LOSS OR DAMAGE AND ANY CLAIM OR DEMANDS THEREFOR ON ACCOUNT OF INJURY TO ME OR MY PROPERTY OR RESULTING IN MY DEATH ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE EVENT(S) from any cause whatsoever, including, without limitation, the failure of anyone to enforce rules and regulations, the failure to make inspections, the condition of any portion of the track or ...