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Red Flag for Wrongful Death Suit


— August 11, 2015

Kevin and Pamela Ward filed a claim in the 5th Judicial District for the Supreme Court of New York on behalf of their deceased son, Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed during a race in upstate New York in 2014. Famed NASCAR racer Tony Stewart hit Ward Jr. causing his death. However, the family should get the red flag for wrongful death suit.

Ward’s family said, “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.”

According to the suit, three-time champion of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series and professional driver, Tony Stewart, 44, acted with “wanton, reckless and malicious intent and negligence” in causing Ward’s death.

The incident occurred on August 9, 2014 at a non-NASCAR race. Ward and Stewart’s cars bumped, which spun Ward into the retaining wall. Stewart continued unaffected. Officials waved the caution flag, slowing all cars without bringing them to a stop. Ward decided this would be a great time to confront Stewart so he leapt from his car and strode into the middle of the track pointing at the oncoming traffic and waiting for Stewart.

This particular section of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park track was poorly lit, but someone managed to capture the incident on video. Ward continued to stand in the middle of the track as Stewart approached. Stewart hit Ward throwing him 50 feet down the track. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Stewart sat out the next three NASCAR races. No criminal charges were filed against Stewart as a grand jury cleared him of culpability after reviewing the evidence.

The evidence, examined by police experts and a prominent accident reconstructionist, clearly showed that Stewart’s car did not swerve as previously thought. “It made it very clear that Tony Stewart was driving on a straight path until he collided with Kevin Ward and then he veered to the right. When you look at it, you may say, ‘Oh, it looks like he swerved.’ But in reality, that was not substantiated by the lab work.”

In fact, the reconstructionist’s work showed that there was a mere 1.3 seconds between the times the car preceding Stewart’s passed Ward and Stewart’s car hit Ward. N.Y. State Police investigating the incident came up with almost the same number.

“They were off in their calculations by a couple hundredths of a second, but both arrived at the same conclusion that Tony Stewart, from the moment he could have been able to see Kevin Ward, he had about one second to react. The grand jury felt that’s not sufficient to attach criminal liability to.”

Indeed, it’s not enough time. Even a seasoned professional driver like Stewart couldn’t have avoided striking Ward, given such a small window of reaction time.

Toxicology tests showed that Ward had smoked marijuana anywhere from immediately before the race to five hours before and had sufficient levels “to impair judgment.”

Let me begin by extending my condolences to the Ward family. That said I don’t believe their civil suit will, or should, succeed. While I haven’t been involved in the racing culture for over two decades, I spent a good deal of time around it in my twenties. Much of that time was spent watching sprint car races such as this one.

Tempers do flare in this sport, as they do in many others. I’ve seen fights break out over exactly the same type of “bump” that happened between Ward and Stewart. However, these occurred in instances where there was a large amount of debris that had to be cleared and the cars were brought to a stop by a red flag.

I’ve seen drivers exit their cars on a yellow flag in order to be examined for injury and to have their cars towed from the track if they were no longer drivable. I have never seen a driver purposely walk to the center of the track during a caution, especially for a confrontation with another driver.

Frankly, this was unprofessional and unsportsmanlike behavior, as well as being extremely dangerous. It’s a pity that Ward lost his life, but if anyone behaved with “wanton, reckless and malicious intent and negligence,” it was Ward. Sure, the cars are slowed from racing speed during a yellow caution flag, but they’re still going fast enough to do damage, obviously.

Ward, as a racer, should have known better and should have behaved in a more professional and safe manner. I understand losing one’s temper in such a situation. These cars, for being relatively small, are quite expensive as are any necessary repairs. I also know that some folks are better able to handle “herbal enhancement” than others. Further, a true professional would not have indulged in such enhancement pre-race.

All of the evidence points to a young man who would not, or could not, control his anger. He endangered (and lost) his life due to this lack of control. While I feel for his family, trying to pin the loss of his life on anyone but Ward himself is just wrong. Everything in this case points to the victim himself.

Sources:

Lawsuit filed against NASCAR’s Stewart in fatal dirt-track accident

Report: Kevin Ward Jr. smoked marijuana within hours of final race

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