News Fireball that injured spectators at car festival in Alice Springs triggers legal action

Fireball that injured spectators at car festival in Alice Springs triggers legal action

Fuel ignited and shot flames over crowds at temperatures exceeding 400C during Red CentreNATS in 2017. Photo: Supplied
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The organisers of one of Australia’s largest car festivals are being sued over an incident that left more than a dozen spectators seriously injured after flames exploded into the crowd at the Red CentreNATS four years ago.

The incident occurred when methanol fuel from a car’s exhaust system ignited during a burnout competition at the Alice Springs Inland Dragway in September 2017.

Fourteen people suffered serious burns, including four spectators who were flown to an intensive care unit in Adelaide.

A doctor who treated the injured group at the time said the flames would have been more than 400 degrees Celsius.

Legal action has now been taken against the company that co-runs the annual event, Car Festivals Pty Ltd, whose directors also co-own Australia’s largest car festival, Summernats.

The NT government’s Major Events Company, which co-manages the Red CentreNATS, is also being sued as part of the same proceedings.

The civil case in the NT Supreme Court has been initiated by the Motor Accident Compensation Commission [MACC], which manages an NT government scheme that covers the medical costs and lost wages of motor accident victims.

More than $264,000 paid out so far

In its statement of claim, MACC told the court the defendants were aware of the risk of fire being emitted from a motor vehicle competing on the burnout pad but failed to minimise the risk of harm to people in the crowd.

“The burnout pad was separated from the designated [spectators’] area by a chain mesh fence, through which fire could readily pass,” MACC stated.

“The defendants breached their duty of care to the spectators by permitting [them] to view the burnout competition in close proximity to the burnout pad, in the absence of a fence or barrier to contain any fire caused by a motor vehicle.”

Under NT legislation, people injured in any type of motor vehicle accident, including spectators at an event, are unable to sue for damages under common law.

Instead, they can only seek compensation for medical costs and loss of earning capacity under the NT’s Motor Accident Compensation Scheme.

MACC has asked the Supreme Court to have the defendants indemnify it for all current and future statutory payments made to the injured spectators.

So far, MACC has paid out more than $264,000 to seven of the victims.

The costs have covered hospital payments, psychological and physiotherapy consultations, and loss of earnings.

Car Festivals Pty Ltd and NT Major Events are yet to file their defences and both parties declined to comment on the matter when approached by the ABC.

In 2019, both organisations committed to spend a combined total of $1.2 million to improve safety at motor sports events as part of enforceable undertakings following an NT WorkSafe investigation into the 2017 incident.