Acting on the advice of the Hill County attorney, the Great Northern Fair Board Tuesday rejected the Havre Jaycees request to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to join in the annual demolition derby sponsored as a fundraiser by the local service organization.
Hill County Commissioner Jeff LaVoi told Jaycees at the fair board’s monthly meeting that he would talk to County Attorney Gina Dahl to find out more about the issue, and Fairgrounds Manager Tim Solomon said he also would bring up the questions raised by the Jaycees at a meeting he is attending in Lewistown Saturday.
Chelby Gooch, past president of the Havre Jaycees and state Jaycee community development vice president, said the group is trying to boost the numbers at that event. The number of competitors at the derby, traditionally a highlight of the Great Northern Fair, has dropped in recent years.
“We already have a crowd that is angry about the derby going from four hours long to, if we’re lucky, two, ” she said, adding that the Jaycees are concerned that they won’t have a derby at all if they don’t boost the number of drivers.
“Then what we do? ” Gooch asked.
Dahl said this morning that, the way the waiver she was asked to review regarding minors competing is written, she believes it violates state law.
“The way it is written probably is not very effective, ” she said.
Because of that, she recommended it not be approved, Dahl said.
“I think that that kind of thing kind of opens up Hill County for liability, ” she said.
Solomon said the issue is one of liability. The Jaycees are asking the fair board to allow them to let the youths compete using the same waiver of liability the adults use, to prevent the fair from being held liable in case of injuries or other problems. Dahl said waiver would not cover the fair in the case of youths.
“Approval of your request would subject Hill County to liability for large claims if a minor were injured during the derby, ” the letter from the Hill County Commissioners to Havre Jaycees President T. J. Daulton reads.
Emily Vaughn, management vice president for the state Jaycees, said at the meeting that no one will insure the drivers in a derby.
“If there are derbies that have a policy, I would love to see it, ” she said.
Daulton said that, under the law Dahl cited, the waiver wouldn’t cover anyone, including adults, at any derby in the state.
“Under (her interpretation of) Montana state law, we’re all illegal with having any drivers, ” Daulton said.
LaVoi said that the issue gets more complicated with minors, such as having a parent or legal guardian sign the waiver for the child.
“It does add a different dimension, ” he said.
Solomon made similar comments. Allowing youths to drive in the derby would increase the risk to the fair board and the county, he said.
“(Dahl) must feel like we’re sticking our neck out too far, ” he said.
He said that he will ask the representatives of other fairs this weekend about the issues like insurance at derbies, waivers and youth participation.
LaVoi said he would talk to Dahl about the questions raised, but that, as county officials, they have to follow the recommendations of the county attorney and protect the interests of county residents.
The recommendation was not made “to pick on the Jaycees, by any means, ” LaVoi added.