ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The last thing NASCAR fan Whitney Turner saw before she turned and ran was the undercarriage of Kyle Larson’s race car flying toward her Saturday in the grandstands at the Daytona International Speedway.
“It was a scene from a horror movie,” said Turner, 33, whose fibula bone on her right leg was shattered by flying debris.
Turner of Tell City, Indiana, was one of more than 30 fans injured in a multi-car accident on the last lap of the Nationwide Series race a day before Sunday’s prestigious Daytona 500.
Turner is one of three fans seeking damages who this week signed on with Matt Morgan of the Orlando personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan.
Turner’s lawyer said, based on NASCAR history, “a lot of times they resolve these claims without having to go through litigation. So hopefully we can come to an amicable resolution on the value of these claims and move on.”
The injuries happened when rookie driver Larson’s car went airborne and sailed into the fence in the frightening crash, although he was able to climb out of the wreckage afterward.
Crews worked through the night to repair the fence so the Daytona 500 race could go on as planned. The speedway is owned by International Speedway Corporation (ISCA.O)
A lifelong NASCAR fan attending the race in Daytona for the first time, Turner said she had a front row seat and was standing as close as possible to the safety fence that separates fans from the track when the accident occurred.
Turner’s seat was just three seats away from the fence’s crossover gate, which is being looked at as possibly the spot where large debris entered the stands.
As the cars came around turn four, Turner said fans started yelling that there was a crash. Turner said she saw smoke, and cars turning around in the air, spewing debris.
“You can see them turn sideways and then all of a sudden they’re getting closer. It happened so fast,” she said, describing how she saw the belly of a car hit the fence as she turned away and tried to make a run for it.
Turner said she took about two steps back toward her seat when something knocked her down.
“The only thing I can remember is trying to stand back up and my leg, I could feel it snap,” she said.
She recalled looking around and seeing a car engine on fire where a commercial video camera and a cameraman wearing a media identification tag stood moments earlier. She heard people moaning in their seats, and described the sounds around her.
“People yelling for help. ‘There’s a young boy.’ ‘Please come help us.’ And I was screaming ‘Help me! Medic! Medic!’ ..... Then it all went like silent. Everyone was stunned,” she said.
Medical personnel came to her aid and took her to the hospital. Doctors told her that, in addition to the fractured fibula, the debris sliced her Achilles tendon. Her leg was too swollen for a cast right after the accident but she expects to get one next week.
Turner, who works for a marketing firm, said she has been watching NASCAR races for as long as she can remember, and previously attended two races in North Carolina. Despite her injuries, Turner said she would return to the races.
“I can tell you I won’t be in the first row again,” she said.
NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said that, while the racing group does not discuss pending or potential litigation, “We’ll likely provide an update on our next steps at our next race, which is this weekend in Phoenix.”
A waiver on the back of the race tickets says that fans assume all risks, a disclaimer Morgan said was typical for sporting events and active locales such as ski resorts.
“Arguments can go both ways,” as to whether the waiver absolves the company of all liability, Morgan said.
He said he had not yet determined whether courts had ruled on that issue.
“I don’t believe, in my limited research, that NASCAR has many - if any - pending lawsuits against them right now,” Morgan said.
He said he will focus attention on engineering studies on the safety fence at the Talladega Superspeedway after flying debris injured fans after a similar crash in 2009. (Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)