Jockey sues Suffolk Downs, alleging lax helmet policy
Andria Terrill won the second race at Suffolk Downs aboard a fleet chestnut colt to notch her 18th victory barely a month into the 2013 thoroughbred horse racing season.
Her next race on that hot afternoon at the East Boston track would be, in all likelihood, her last.
Terrill climbed atop Chapel’s Beauty, a 3-year-old filly, as a favorite to win in the fourth race. But the horse stumbled coming out of the gate, and Terrill wound up splayed on the track, unconscious and badly injured.
Terrill now says she will never ride again, and that Suffolk Downs is to blame because racing officials neglected to enforce the state’s standard for the type of safety helmet that jockeys like her must wear. As a result, the inferior helmet she wore failed to protect her from severe injury, she says in a newly filed lawsuit.
She is demanding $1.3 million from the racetrack for loss of earnings.
“Suffolk Downs failed to properly ensure that Terrill wore a helmet that met the minimum safety standard” required under state law, according to her lawsuit, filed on Nov. 25 in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston.
The lawsuit says Terrill suffered three skull fractures in her fall during the race on July 8, 2013. As a result, she “is no longer able to work as a professional jockey” because of, among other ailments, “headaches, dizziness, difficulties with balance . . . clumsiness, difficulties with concentration and focus, and emotional instability,” the suit says.
Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, said, “We don’t think this lawsuit has any merit,” and declined to elaborate.
“We obviously are very sympathetic to jockeys any time there is an injury,” Tuttle said. “It’s a very dangerous profession, and we have great admiration for their courage.”
Suffolk Downs, which opened in 1935, is not scheduled to reopen next season, after the state Gaming Commission granted its Greater Boston resort casino license to a rival applicant in Everett.
Terrill was “a leading rider at Suffolk Downs” when the accident occurred, and “as such her potential earnings as a jockey would have been extremely high,” her lawsuit says.
Terrill, who was 30 when she tumbled from her mount, grew up in a family of horse jockeys and trainers in upstate New York, according to the Jockeys’ Guild website. She made her Suffolk Downs debut in 2011, and a year later finished fourth in the track’s jockey standings.
When the 2013 season opened, Terrill appeared poised to climb in the standings, as one of four highly touted female jockeys at Suffolk Downs.
“We’re doing OK, the girls,” Terrill told a Globe sportswriter as the season began. “Everyone that rides horses is competitive, they’re athletic. When you go back to the room, everything’s fine, there’s friendships there, but when we’re on the track, I’m not going to give up my position for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.”
Indeed, Terrill ranked second among jockeys when the accident occurred, with her mounts earning more than $190,000, an amount divided among the owner, trainer and jockey, according to a 2013 story in the Daily Racing Form newspaper.
Terrill, who now lives in Florida, declined to be interviewed for this story, said her lawyer, Neil D. Raphael of Boston.
In an interview, Raphael said Terrill’s injuries “would have been far less serious if she wore a better helmet” when the accident occurred.
“She was told she was in compliance” with the state’s helmet requirement, Raphael said. “The helmet was inspected. But she shouldn’t have been wearing that helmet. The track failed to fulfill its responsibility.”
Helmets worn by jockeys must comply with one of three minimum standards, set by the American Society for Testing and Material, in the United Kingdom, and in Australia and New Zealand, the lawsuit says.
The United Kingdom standard actually contains two standards, and while Terrill’s helmet complied with one of them, it did not comply with both, as required under state law, the lawsuit says.