On June 21, 1992, Cowart and her younger brother, George Kowalski, attended the Tiki Island Park to ride go-karts. While driving, she struck a guard rail on the track and her kart overturned. Fuel leaking from a loose gas cap ignited, and Cowart was not able to remove her seat belt to escape. She was trapped in the fire for several minutes, sustaining 3rd and 4th degree burns on almost her entire body.
Attorney Martin Levin of the Levin Papantonio firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of her family against three parties: Tiki Island, Johnson Kart Manufacturing, and Chilton Metals, which manufactured the gasoline tank and cap. In 1999, a Wisconsin court ordered $1.24 billion in damages, including $1 billion in punitive damages against Johnson Kart Manufacturing.