IndyCar not yet collected in lawsuit over flying debris at St. Pete

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Lawyers for a spectator hit by a piece of debris that came off a race car at the IndyCar Series race in St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 29 have filed notice that she intends to sue the city for “negligent acts or omissions.”

Brigitte Hoffstetter was hit in the head by a piece of debris that came loose from one of the car’s new aero kits and flew over a catch fence and into a spectator area.

Hoffstetter, who was six months pregnant at the time, reported she was in one of the concession areas—about 100 yards from the track—when she was hit by the debris, which caused her to stumble backward, fall and hit her head on the ground, according to court filings obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

The race takes place on city streets and is permitted by the city.

After Hoffstetter was hit, she was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg where, according to the court filing, doctors told her she suffered a depressed skull fracture and a possible back injury.

It is not clear if or how the fall affected Hoffstetter's pregnancy, but her husband, Greg Hoffstetter, told the Tampa Bay Times the day after the accident that doctors expect her to recover. Officials for Bayfront Health said Hoffstetter required an overnight stay at the facility but has since been released.

"It's crazy what happened," Greg Hoffstetter told the newspaper. "[It] could have been very bad. It's amazing she is alive."

Hoffstetter’s lawyers are seeking the piece of debris—which is in the possession of IndyCar officials—that struck their client.

To this point, IndyCar is not involved in the lawsuit.

“IndyCar has not been served with a lawsuit or received a formal complaint,” IndyCar spokesman Mike Kitchel told IBJ on Monday. “IndyCar has the piece believed to be involved in the incident and would make it available to her attorney upon request.”

Florida law limits damage rewards from government entities to $300,000. Hoffstetter’s lawyers could seek more than that amount from the open-wheel series which sanctioned the race and was in charge of overseeing specifications for the design of the cars—including the aero kits, which were first raced at St. Pete.

Hoffstetter’s lawyers did not return a phone call seeking comment.

This year, the IndyCar Series introduced new aero kits designed to make the cars more aerodynamic and go faster. Parts of the aero kits also have been found to come off more readily during contact than pieces of the former standard DW12 chassis.

According to fans at the St. Petersburg race, several pieces of debris on different occasions during the race flew over the fence and into spectator areas.

Since the St. Petersburg race, manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet have made design changes to strengthen their aero kits.

Four days after the St. Petersburg incident, Hoffstetter’s lawyers sent a letter notifying St. Petersburg city officials they intend to sue the city within six months. That notice is required by Florida law.

The letter, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, alleges the city failed to have the race “operated in a proper and safe manner” and to “adequately protect spectators and/or individuals from the dangerous condition of flying debris or other projectiles.”

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