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Mall, farm owners dropped from mud run lawsuit

The Silverdale Chamber of Commerce stands alone in defending a lawsuit filed by four injured participants in last year’s chamber-sponsored Extreme K Mud Run.

The owners of the Kitsap Mall, where overflow parking was slated to be available for the event, and Ron and Nadeen Ross, owners of the Royal Valley Farm where the race was held last October, have been dropped from the lawsuit.

James McCormick, of the Tacoma law firm Messina Bulzomi Christensen, originally filed suit late last year on behalf of Wendy Davis, a Poulsbo police sergeant and former deputy chief, and two other women, Jaclyn Brant and Germaine Szewezyk. Each of the woman suffered serious foot injuries in a course obstacle dubbed “Gravity’s Revenge,” a nearly vertical chute or slide with a rocky mud puddle at the bottom. A fourth plaintiff, Silverdale resident Troy Wysocki, who suffered back injuries, has also signed onto the lawsuit.

“We still expect that we’ll see some more (plaintiffs) come forward as this progresses,” McCormick said this week.

McCormick also said that dropping the mall and farm owners from the lawsuit was the right thing to do.

“The chamber of commerce made the right decision not to blame the owners of the farm and the mall,” McCormick said. “That was a good thing to do, accepting responsibility for at least the lawsuit and not blaming the other parties. It makes sense from a practical perspective. Legally the owners of the property would have some responsibility, but practically these nice people weren’t out there designing ‘Gravity’s Revenge.’ It was the chamber’s event.”

John Wiegenstein, an Everett attorney with the firm Heller Wiegenstein PLLC who represents the chamber, said that the mall had nothing to do with the event. Originally, there was a possibility of having overflow parking at the mall but that wasn’t needed, he said. He said that the Rosses simply made their property available and played no role in designing the course.

Wiegenstein said in the course of a normal lawsuit, there would be a factual investigation to determine who is involved before filing a claim.

“I think what happened here is the plaintiffs were off running around trying to get in front of the TV cameras and spent a lot of energy doing that instead of the actual leg work, or spade work, of figuring who should be involved in the case,” he said.

The lawsuit claims that the “Gravity’s Revenge” obstacle, a ravine covered in heavy black plastic that was kept wetted down by the run’s staff, was especially dangerous.

“Participants were hastily instructed to ‘slide’ down the obstacle toward the bottom of the ravine. No other instructions or warnings were given,” the suit stated. “As plaintiffs impacted the rocks at the bottom of the slide at a high rate of speed, they each sustained the severe injuries.”

The suit also stated paramedics were called to bring up “numerous injured participants” from the bottom of the slide. “After repeated calls from medical (personnel) to close the hazardous obstacle, defendants agreed,” the suit states.

Participants of the run signed a waiver, being warned of and assuming risks involved in the course, but McCormick said the waiver will be “inapplicable or unenforceable in this case.”

“This was an obstacle that was so dangerous there’s no way you could be aware of the risk it posed,” McCormick said. “You can expect it to be challenging, but they aren’t Navy Seals or Marines. “

Wiegenstein, though, said that he thinks the waiver will hold up and noted that the standard for gross negligence in Washington state is very difficult to prove and would essentially mean that organizers took no steps whatsoever to keep people safe.

“I think there was quite a bit of care taken,” Wiegenstein said. “The problem at the end of the day is you have an event by its nature where there’s a risk of people getting hurt. People fill out forms or undertake risk all the time with the belief it’s not going to be them that gets hurt. I think they sign it and agree to it, but if the roulette wheel comes up wrong and they get hurt, it’s, ‘Oh, wait a minute…’ “

McCormick noted that mud runs are gaining in popularity, with more and more of them popping up all over the country.

“I think that’s great, but what’s happening is almost culture of one-upmanship, with more dangerous and more extreme challenges,” he said. “(The chamber) put it on as a benefit and that’s a great thing. My understanding is that they are planning to do it again as another benefit. That’s fine, too, but I hope they do it safely.”

Wiegenstein said he isn’t sure if the chamber will sponsor another run.

“I believe this event got a lot of positive feedback from most of the participants and the community generally,” he said. “The whole idea was to try to raise money to distribute to organizations helping the needy. I think, generally, it was a positive event and people would like to see it done again. But I don’t think at this point there’s any clear decision.”

 

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