State officials said this week they are accepting no responsibility for a hand-car race accident a year ago at the Nevada State Railroad Museum that left Douglas County resident Ken Hamilton with a shattered elbow, split knee cap and a pile of medical bills.
The races, an annual part of the Nevada Day celebration, were canceled last year after the accident, and no races are scheduled this year. Not enough interest was generated to justify the staff and volunteer time needed to conduct them, museum attendant Melissa Clark said.
Hamilton filed suit against the state of Nevada in Carson City's First Judicial District Court earlier this year. He is asking for monetary damages and attorneys' fees.
On Oct. 23, 2001, a crew of four, including Hamilton, was preparing for the hand car races when the car derailed.
"We don't know what happened. We weren't doing anything special, just going as fast as we could," Hamilton said this week. "We'd been instructed on how to race by museum volunteers. I've been in these races before and it's pretty straightforward.
"Three of us were launched off the hand car after the car derailed, and I was one of them. I flew straight onto the tracks."
Of the three, Hamilton was the only one hospitalized. The elbow injury was complex, involving a number of torn ligaments. The split patella on his knee required one operation. A second surgery had to be performed on the elbow to scrape off excess bone around the break.
Hamilton estimates his portion of the medical bills to be between $40,000 and $50,000, after insurance. His insurance company has balked because the matter is in litigation. Some of the hospitals that treated him have instigated liens pending the outcome of the court case.
"My life's on hold. I don't want to spend any money until I see how this turns out," he said. "It's in the back of my mind every day and it's driving me crazy. I want it all behind me."
Marsha Britton, administrator for the Division of Museums and History, said the lawsuit isn't the reason for canceling the races.
"The races were re-evaluated and given the green light by risk management and the Attorney General's Office," she said.
Hamilton said museum officials contacted him in the hospital after the incident and asked him to sign a waiver, something he hadn't done before the races.
Beyond that, museum officials would not speak to him and the matter was sent to the Attorney General's Office. He was told he could fill out some forms to make a claim, but officials were not optimistic about any compensation.
Hamilton believes he was given no choice but to file the lawsuit.
"It didn't need to go this far," he said. "Why didn't they just pick up the bill?"
Deputy Attorney General Melani Meehan-Crossley said she was not comfortable commenting on the details of the lawsuit.
"He was voluntarily engaging in an activity that inherently carries a risk," she said. "Participants can be hurt."
Hamilton owns Hamilton Business Machines with his father, who came out of retirement to handle operations during his son's rehabilitation.
Hamilton has regained about 90 percent of the mobility in his arm but is worried about long-term effects of the injuries. Damage to the arm is permanent, according to Hamilton.
"I want them to take care of my medical expenses," he said. "The medical bills are extremely burdensome and I'm upset about the way I've been treated. It eats on me, the way this has been hushed up.
"After the incident, they (museum officials) said the car races were canceled due to a mishap. They've been secretive and I don't like that. This happened and I don't want to see it happen again."