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'Brain-injured volunteer, speedway settle lawsuit'

Last modified: 6/26/2012 12:00:00 AM
The New Hampshire Motor Speedway has settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Vermont man who injured himself at the track after he fell off a golf cart, but the action against the golf cart's manufacturer is still set to go to trial next month.

Roderick Jenks, 53, of Wilder, Vt., was thrown from the back of a cart driven by a track employee at the speedway in July 2006, according to court records.

Jenks, who worked as a handyman and part-time bus driver in Lebanon, slammed his head on the pavement. He required brain surgery and months of hospitalization, and he struggles to this day with basic activities, his attorneys have said.

Three years after the accident, Roderick's wife, Melissa, acting as her husband's guardian, sued the speedway and several other parties, including Textron Inc., the Fortune 500 manufacturer of the golf cart.

In filings with the U.S. District Court in Concord, the Jenkses sought, among other things, damages for Roderick's medical bills and lost income as well as Melissa's loss of consortium.

The couple eventually asked for $5 million in damages. They face more than that amount from past and future medical bills as well as rehabilitation expenses and lost earnings, according to recent court filings.

On May 17, after six hours of mediation, the Jenkses settled the lawsuit with the speedway and the woman driving the golf cart.

Citing a confidentiality agreement, Daniel Mawhinney, the Jenkses' attorney based in Portland, Maine, declined to comment on the conditions of the settlement.

Jerry Gappens, the speedway's general manager, also declined to comment. The accident occurred before Speedway Motorsports Inc., purchased the track from Bob and Gary Bahre.

Where the suit against the speedway focused on issues such as a failure to post speed limits and a lack of proper driver training, next month's trial will focus on whether the golf-cart company made an unsafe product and properly warned customers not to ride in the back of the cart.

On the day of the accident, the speedway was paying $7 to a charity of Jenks's choice for each hour he and his wife worked. After the golf cart driver swerved twice, Jenks fell from the back, suffering a traumatic brain injury, court records detail.

Since then, he has required his wife's support for tasks as simple as shopping, court records say.

At first the Jenkses filed for workers' compensation against the speedway, but he was ineligible because the track was not paying him for his labor.

In their suit against Textron Inc., the Jenkses claim the company should have known that people would ride in the back of the golf cart and that such an activity could be harmful, and it failed to properly warn potential users, according to court filings.

Textron, a defense contractor that in 2011 claimed $11.3 billion in revenue and also makes Cessna planes and Bell helicopters, claims that riding in the back of a golf cart is an 'open and obvious danger' that required no additional warnings.

It also claims Roderick Jenks contributed to his own injury.

A spokesman for the company said Textron declines to comment on cases where litigation is pending.

The trial is scheduled to begin at the federal court in Concord on July 17. It is expected to last two weeks.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors.)


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