7 August 2015
NASCAR: Stewart sued by Ward family over son's death
The family of Kevin Ward Jr. has instigated a wrongful death lawsuit against three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart is being sued by the family of Kevin Ward Jr., the 20-year-old racing driver who died last year after being struck by Stewart's car during a regional dirt track race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York State.
Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm said on behalf of the Ward family that Stewart "wrongfully caused Mr Ward's death by acting with wanton, reckless and malicious intent and negligence" by gunning his engine and sliding his car into Ward who was on foot on the track at the time.
"A jury needs to see the video, learn of Tony Stewart's past, and give the verdict that delivers justice," Lanier said. "Tony's actions took the life of a marvellous young, talented man."
Ward died after he walked back onto the circuit after crashing out following earlier racing contact with Stewart. Ward was then hit by Stewart's car as the field came back round under caution to the section of the track where Ward was standing.
"Stewart acted with disregard for Ward's life and safety by driving his vehicle in a manner that would terrorise Ward and thereafter strike, severely injure and kill Ward," stated the lawsuit.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Ward's parents Kevin and Pamela went on to content that "Stewart could have easily acted reasonably and with prudence to avoid striking Ward, just as all other drivers had done as they passed Ward during the yellow caution flag."
The family has requested a jury trial. No financial sum is stipulated in the legal filing, and the calculation of any penalty that could be sought can only take into account the future loss of expected earnings together with the care and support that Ward might have expected to provide his parents during his lifetime, not for their own pain and suffering. The family has requested a jury trial.
A press release from the law film added: "Kevin Ward would be alive today if not for the reckless and dangerous actions of Tony Stewart, who eventually will have to answer for what he did. The past year has been extremely difficult for Kevin's mother and father, and they're still trying to cope with their unimaginable loss.
"Our son was truly the light of our lives and we miss him terribly every day,” the Wards added in a statement. “Our hope is that this lawsuit will hold Tony Stewart responsible for killing our son and show him there are real consequences when someone recklessly takes another person's life."
The accident which took place on August 9 2014 was investigated by police at the direction of the Ontario County district attorney office. A grand jury ultimately decided that there were no grounds to charge Stewart with criminal offences that could have included manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide.
The grand jury heard the evidence and testimony from two dozen witness over the course of two days, including enhanced video footage of the incident which district attorney Michael Tantillo said "did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the collision. Prior to that, his course was pretty straight."
The official accident investigation report also revealed that Ward had been under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident, at a level said to be high enough to impair judgement. The grand jury deliberated for less than an hour before reaching its decision not to pursue criminal charges. However, civil proceedings adhere to a different standard, requiring a balance of probability rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt to reach a verdict.
Stewart missed three races in 2014 after being involved in the fatal incident Canandaigua, including last year's race at Watkins Glen. He also missed the road course race the year before in 2013 after breaking his leg in a sprint car accident in Iowa which ended his racing season while he spent five months recuperating.
Stewart had no comment on the lawsuit on Friday. He had rarely spoken about the circumstances surrounding Ward's death, but did make reference to the incident when he spoke at a charity event at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday.
“I don't think I'll ever be the same from what happened the last two years," he had said. "I don't know how you could be. I don't know how anybody could ever be back to exactly the way they were."
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