NASCAR Driver Personally Liable for Death

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A judge has ruled that NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart, is personally liable for any expenses that may result from his involvement in the death of Kevin Ward Jr.

Kevin Ward Jr.’s Death

On August 9, 2014, during the Empire Super Sprints car race, Stewart struck and killed 20-year-old Ward.  The accident occurred after Stewart’s car sent Ward’s into the wall.  Ward got out of his car and ran toward Stewart’s car.  Stewart’s car hit Ward, sending his body flying and leaving him motionless on the ground.  Ward was pronounced dead at a hospital 45 minutes later.

An autopsy confirmed that Ward died of massive blunt trama.  Stewart was not indicted for Ward’s death.  The Ontario County District Attorney, Michael Tantillo, stated that Ward had had marijuana in his system at the time of the accident.  Tantillo stated that, “the forensic chemist who analyzed Mr. Ward’s blood concluded that, and advised me that, the levels and metabolites found present in his blood indicated relatively recent usage, at a level that would have impaired his judgment.”

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Ward’s parents, Kevin and Pamela, filed a lawsuit against Stewart, seeking damages for their son’s pain and suffering and for the loss of economic benefits and support that he could have provided to them.  They argue that Stewart failed “to steer clear of Ward while all other drivers remained a safe distance from [him], and hitting the gas on a 700 horsepower sprint car proximately caused the untimely death of Kevin.”

Stewart responded that he “did not see Ward, Jr. or anyone else walking on foot on the track until just prior to contact, and did not know the identity of the person walking on the track until afterwards…Stewart was not aware that Ward, Jr. had crashed because the crash was behind him, and was not aware that anyone was walking on the track. Stewart did not know Ward, Jr., and had never had a previous track incident with him. Ward, Jr. approached Stewart’s car and attempted to make contact with it. As a result of Ward Jr.’s actions, Ward Jr. was killed.”

Pamela Ward spoke about her suit on Good Morning America, saying, “I don’t feel Tony meant to kill my son, but his actions killed my son…I think he lost his temper…We want him held accountable and we feel this is the only action we have left.”

Stewart’s Insurance Coverage

Stewart looked to his insurance provider, Axis, to provide his defense in the lawsuit.  Axis denied coverage, as it determined that the actions were not covered by Stewart’s insurance policy.

Stewart took Axis to court, where U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd ruled that Stewart’s policy with Axis did not cover the incident because it was not one of the specified 105 events included under the policy.  His policy only included 65 World of Outlaw races, 30 USAC Sprint Car races and 10 USAC Silver Crown races.

This ruling means that the insurance company is not responsible for covering the expenses of his defense as well as any potential settlement or judgment against him. However, U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd of the Northern District of New York ruled that Stewart is personally responsible for the cost of his defense and any potential settlements from Ward Jr.’s parents’ lawsuit.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, Tony Stewart, Smoke Shot

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