LITTLE ROCK — A Newton County judge this week granted ownership of the former Dogpatch USA theme park to a Harrison man who was injured on the property and the man’s father.
“We certainly didn’t expect or want to get the property,” said Stewart Nance, whose son, Pruett Nance, was severely injured Sept. 9, 2005, while riding an all-terrain vehicle on a road through the park. “We would have preferred to have our expenses covered.”
Pruett Nance was struck in the neck by a cable strung between two trees across a road through the park. His trachea was severed and his neck was broken in the accident, according to court records.
“He barely speaks now,” Stewart Nance said. “His doctors say it’s like breathing through a straw.”
Nance said the two men had permission to ride on the property and had ridden there before.
By ordering the transfer of ownership Tuesday, Newton County Circuit Judge Shawn Womack fulfilled a 2008 jury award that was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court in December. The property transfer is in lieu of a judgment of $764,582 against brothers C.L. and Ford Carr of Missouri and Michael Carr, a caretaker of the property.
The award amount reflects interest that has accrued since the September 2008 trial, said Brent Baber, a Little Rock attorney who represents the Nances.
The jury awarded Pruett Nance $100,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages. Jurors awarded Stewart Nance $400,000 in compensatory damages to cover his son’s medical bills.
The former theme park, which was based on the Li’l Abner comic strip by Al Capp, is on Arkansas 7 between Harrison and Jasper. It opened in 1968 and closed in 1993.
Stewart Nance said he sued to recover some of what he spent on his son’s medical care and to see whether a jury thought his son, then 17, deserved compensation.
“I certainly don’t think the Carrs intended to hurt my son that day, but they had cables strung through the property that the jury believed weredesigned to hurt somebody,” Stewart Nance said.
Baber said jurors ultimately agreed the Carrs were not protected by the state’s recreational-use law that protects landowners from being sued for recreational injuries incurred on their property in nearly every situation except when there are “booby traps” on the property.
“You can be extremely negligent on your own property. You can be reckless,” Baber said. “You just can’t set a trap for someone.”
Baber said it would be the same as seeking to stop breakins by rigging a shotgun to fire when the door opens. In that instance, a property owner would be liable if an intruder were shot, he said.
However, a person whose property was in disrepair wouldn’t have to worry if an intruder was injured in the event the building collapsed on him, Baber said.
Baber said that during the 2008 trial, jurors were told of an incident involving relatives of the Nances who once were held at gunpoint by Dogpatch caretakers. He said the testimony was intended to show that the Carrs had set traps for trespassers.
Stewart Nance said that despite statements made at different times in the lawsuit, he and his son had permission to ride on the property. Nance said they had ridden on the property several times and each time he first asked Michael Carr’s permission.
Nance said he was talking with Carr when Pruett Nance was knocked off his ATV by the cable across the road.
“I couldn’t figure out what my son was doing on the ground and why his fourwheeler was up at the highway,” Nance said. “I didn’t see [the cable] until I got right up on it.”
Nance said they haven’t decided what they will do with the property, other than try to secure it and start paying back taxes. He said they don’t plan to move there, don’t have the money to develop it and no one has offered to buy it.
“It will be a challenging property to salvage and turn around,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property and a great natural resource, but it needs a lot of work and attention.”