A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury last week awarded $7.8 million to
the relatives of a middle-aged jockey who was killed after being thrown, dragged and stomped by a horse startled by loose chickens traversing a suburban racetrack.
The award to the family of the late Mario Calderon consists of more than $2 million in compensatory damages and a hefty $5 million in punitive damages.
The civil complaint, which was filed in the spring of 2012, accused Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack, which is now known as Parx Casino, of negligence for allowing chickens to roam free on the racetrack despite the fact that the act had previously caused another horse to spook and injure its rider.
Calderon, a 55-year-old married father of two who raced horses for more than three decades, was catastrophically injured when his horse, Cassidy Blue, was spooked by the chickens and threw him to the ground.
Calderon, the lawsuit said, ended up getting one of his feet stuck in a stirrup, and the horse proceeded to drag him down the racetrack, kicking him in the process, which caused injuries, including chest and head trauma, that ultimately led to his death.
The incident occurred while Calderon was taking his horse out on a practice run at the track.
The award to plaintiff Nura D. Calderon, the deceased jockey’s widow, came after a week-and-a-half trial before Common Pleas Court Judge Albert J. Snite, Jr.
The verdict was against defendants Greenwood Racing Inc., the owner of the racetrack, as well as subsidiaries Bensalem Racing Association Inc. and Keystone Turf Club Inc.
The plaintiff was represented by attorney Michael A. Trunk of the Philadelphia firm Kline & Specter.
The complaint said that the defendants were aware of the problems with chickens running onto the track because of a prior incident, but didn’t do enough to keep the area free from this hazard.
Records show that some horse owners and trainers who have use of the adjacent barns were bringing the chickens to the property.
Trunk told the Pennsylvania Record in an emailed message that he was pleased with the verdict.
“I’m pleased for the family, and I’m pleased that the jury forced Parx to do what Parx refused to do on its own: take responsibility for the tragic and very preventable death of a long-time jockey and loving husband and father,” Trunk wrote. “I’m hopeful that Parx will now get the message that the safety of jockeys and others on its premises is paramount to everything else, including profits from gambling.”