Accident at Gulfstream Raises Liability Questions
Feb. 5 marked a turning point in the career of 3-year-old colt Malibu Blues, although it wasn't because he won his first race. The colt did beat a maiden claiming field in Gulfstream Park's last race that day, but what everyone remembers is what happened afterward.
Owner Joanne Dew of Dogwood Plantation said after the race, her horse headed to the test barn. She was told that two horsemen were with the horse as he crossed from the track to the backstretch to enter the test barn. The path takes horses underneath an observation tower for cameramen, and just as Malibu Blues stepped under the tower, the cameraman stationed there began climbing down, directly over the horse's head with his equipment rattling. The startled colt knocked over one of his handlers, and his second escort tripped over the first.
Malibu Blues took off in a panic, quickly approaching the test barn and where several cars were parked. Groom Terri Page had her car parked toward the end of the row of vehicles. The horse leapt onto her car, possibly in an attempt to jump over it, smashing the windshield and putting his leg through the sunroof. It's unclear how the frightened animal freed himself from the roof, leaving the vehicle with significant damage and himself with a severed artery in his leg.
Five weeks later, Malibu Blues is recovering, but Page's car is not so lucky, and it remains unclear who is responsible for the damage.
“Nobody wants the blame for this,” said Page. “I think they just don't care.”
Page's insurance agent told her that the owner of the horse is at fault for damage to the car, which she had just outfitted with new tires and brakes.
For Page, who has worked as a groom for some three decades, the accident couldn't have come at a worse time. Her mother recently suffered a stroke, so between trips to work and to the hospital, Page needs mobility more than ever.
“I'm a groom and I need my car,” she said. “I don't make a million dollars.
“I'm dealing with it because I'm tougher than that. Racetrackers can deal with a lot. Working seven days a week toughens you up.”
Dew is sympathetic to Page's plight, but she isn't sure she is legally at fault. Dew said that in her native North Carolina and in Louisiana, vehicle owners are responsible for any damage incurred by a horse on farm or track property, since they knowingly parked in an area where an animal could damage it. She said she made inquiries as to whether this was the case in Florida, but could not get a definitive answer.
The accident came at a tough time for Dew, too. Malibu Blues is the last foal out of her stakes-winning mare Cozy Blues, who has since been retired from breeding due to laminitis. She bred the mare to Malibu Moon back when his fee was a third of what it is now and had high hopes for Malibu Blues. Dew's broodmare band is a modest group of five, and she said the operation has been in the red for several years. She would have sold the colt as a yearling, but his late-developing reproductive tract stifled those plans. Now, she is tackling sizable veterinary bills from the two-and-a-half-hour surgery to repair the artery, followed by a week-long hospital stay. Malibu Blues is recuperating in South Carolina, but it is unknown if he will race again.
“I don't know how much money I may have lost on this,” said Dew, who the accountant for Dew Oil in North Carolina. “This is a really strange story. I don't know what to do. [The car repair] is a lot of money to me, too. I work as an accountant. My husband and I own a small business together, which we try to keep going.
“I do not have any animosity toward this woman. I think she was doing what everybody else does: she was driving on the backside. I'm sure she sees me as an owner, and most of the owners anyone sees are the wealthy ones. I'm one of those middle ones that are trying to make a go of this, and I'm having a really hard time now.”
Dew, who was not on the backstretch at the time of the accident, said a lawyer has advised her that Gulfstream may be at fault, since the cameraman alleged to have started the chain reaction was hired by the track. She has since turned the matter over to trainer Kellyn Gorder's insurance company.
An official reached at Gulfstream on Friday said in cases such as this one, the owner of the horse is responsible, but could not speak to the specific incident, or say whether the rule is a matter of state law or track policy.
“I really don't know what's going to come of this. I wish I did,” said Dew.