CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Rahul Ravipudi delivering his opening statement
Update Friday 5/20 - The parties announced a confidential settlement in court Friday afternoon.
Las Vegas, NV - A Nevada state court jury heard opening statements Wednesday in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a customer at a high-speed driving track who died in a fire after losing control of his rented Lamborghini sports car, and the proceedings are being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
The family of Craig Sherwood sued Speedvegas LLC following the 2017 accident, which left Sherwood and driving instructor Gil Ben-Kely dead after their Lamborghini Aventador slammed into a track wall and burst into flames.
Sherwood’s family blamed the crash on supposedly lax safety standards at a track that allegedly pushed amateur tourists to behave like professional race car drivers, but the company maintains the accident is solely the result of Sherwood’s failure to properly follow safety instructions.
The full trial is being webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by CVN, the only news media organization in the country dedicated to video coverage of civil trials of interest to the legal, educational and professional communities.
In his opening statement on behalf of the plaintiffs, Rahul Ravipudi of Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi LLP told jurors that Speedvegas, despite marketing itself to tourists with no high-speed driving experience, encouraged customers to drive at speeds beyond their limits.
“They had a culture of pushing customers beyond their ability creating a high potential for injuries and death,” Ravipudi said.
He described to jurors how Speedvegas advertised itself using phrases like “the need for speed” that Ravipudi argued resulted in a dangerous situation for customers.
“They had a lack of acknowledgement of the fundamental difference between a racing school and a driving experience,” he said.
Ravipudi argued that the Aventador Sherwood drove was under a recall at the time related to the car's fuel system, and that it should have been taken out of the track’s usable inventory. Ravipudi also told jurors that aside from the recall the car was too big and too powerful to safely navigate the track’s tight turns.
Speedvegas also supposedly lacked proper on-site fire response equipment, according to Ravipudi, who told jurors testimony would show Sherwood remained alive long enough in the fire to reach for a door and try to get out of the car.
Ravipudi didn’t ask for a specific amount of damages in his opening, but he noted that at the time of his death Sherwood worked as a high-performing real estate agent with a possible life expectancy of 50 years, meaning his future lost earning capacity alone could reach $7 million.
Representing Speedvegas, Brent Anderson of Taylor Anderson LLP placed the blame for the crash solely on Sherwood, noting that Sherwood signed a waiver acknowledging the risks of driving on a high-speed track.
“The reason for this crash was Mr. Sherwood,” he said. “This whole thing could have been avoided if Mr. Sherwood had just followed the rules and braked when he was supposed to.”
CVN screenshot of defense attorney Brent Anderson delivering his opening statement
Anderson told the jury Speedvegas had no prior record of any crashes like this, and he argued that even one of the plaintiffs’ own expert witnesses would testify that the crash occurred because of “improper driver input.”
Anderson described cones on the track meant to indicate to drivers when they needed to brake before two sharp turns, but he said Sherwood inexplicably “blew past them.”
Anderson also argued the issue related to the car’s fuel system that prompted a recall did not put it at any higher risk for exploding after a crash, and that the fire that occurred was too intense for any amount of on-site firefighting response to be effective.
“This was a huge unsurvivable fire,” he said.
An attorney for the estate of Gil Ben-Kely, Gary Guelker of Resnick & Louis, also gave a brief opening statement arguing that Ben-Kely, an experienced driver, had consistent positive reviews from customers and his actions did not contribute to the accident.
The trial before Judge Nancy Alf is expected to take roughly five weeks to complete and will likely feature extensive testimony from accident reconstruction experts on both sides, and CVN will remain present for the duration of the proceedings.
The case is captioned Estate of Craig Sherwood v. SpeedVegas LLC, case number A-17-757614-C, in Nevada’s 8th Judicial District Court in Clark County.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org