AUGUSTA — A harness race spectator struck in the head and shoulder by a starting gate at the Windsor Fairgrounds is suing over the injuries he suffered in that September 2010 accident.
Christopher Charrier, 43, formerly of Waterville and now of Oakland, filed the lawsuit last week in Kennebec County Superior Court through his attorney, Jason Jabar. Charrier was one of five spectators injured trackside as a vehicle with a starting gate attached turned off the track just after the start of the 13th race that day.
Apparently the gate, which is towed by the vehicle, failed to retract rapidly enough and struck the spectators.
The lawsuit says Charrier “was standing behind a chainlink fence, approximately waist high, in an area open to spectators” when he was struck by the gate carried by a vehicle “likely traveling in excess of 35 miles per hour.” Jabar said the gate weighed about 1,500 pounds.
Two people struck by the gate were treated at the scene and three were taken to the hospital by ambulance, according to published reports at the time. Jabar said two of the injured people filed claims that were resolved with insurance companies, but that attempts to resolve Charrier’s claims at that level weren’t successful.
Charrier suffered a large laceration on the side of the head. “He probably sustained the most severe injury and was knocked unconscious,” Jabar said on Tuesday. “His medical bills are high, approaching $100,000.”
Named as defendants in Charrier’s lawsuit are The Maine Gate, Inc., the business that leased the starting gate vehicle to the fair, Daniel Ward, the owner of that vehicle, and the Windsor Fair itself.
The lawsuit claims negligence on the part of all parties, saying they had to know the vehicle was dangerous. The suit seeks to recover unspecified damages.
“This gate company had had problems in the past,” Jabar said. “There were warning signs everywhere to those in the harness racing community. This was an avoidable accident. It was a disaster waiting to happen.”
Minutes from the June 9, 2009 meeting of the Maine Harness Racing Commission show the commission discussing the safety of Ward’s starting gate, and at the time, Ward told them “they tested the gate 13 times without a problem.” The Windsor Fair accident occurred 15 months later.
Charrier’s complaint also says one of the two people operating the starting gate vehicle for the fair was inexperienced. The gates are closed manually by the driver of the vehicle. Jabar said the gate weighed about 1,500 pounds.
A Kennebec Journal story published the day after the event says the other people injured were struck in the head and the arm in the accident that occurred during the final race for the Windsor Fair that season.
Charrier declined to be interviewed or photographed for this story.
It was unclear whether all the defendants named had been formally notified of the lawsuit. However, Tom Foster, president of the Windsor Fair, said an attorney for the fair’s insurance company will respond to the claims in the lawsuit. Jabar also said the other defendants will be represented by the insurance companies’ attorneys.