NASCAR's Tony Stewart will most likely avoid being criminally prosecuted for the events which occurred this past Saturday night, when his car struck and killed Kevin Ward, Jr. during a race. Ward left his car after it was spun out by Stewart and walked in front of Stewart's car. But that does not mean he will not be able to avoid a civil lawsuit. Kevin Ward Jr.’s family could sue Stewart for wrongful death, which refers to recklessly and/or negligently causing the death of another.
The case will most likely be subject to New York law but, if successful, could lead to millions of dollars in damages, particularly since the decedent’s age and loss of future earnings are a large component of the case. Ward was only 20 years old and if his family can show he had a lucrative future as a driver, that could add up to millions of dollars. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit in New York is two years, meaning Ward’s family has until on or before Aug. 9, 2016 to sue.
In any lawsuit, Ward’s family would need to prove in court to a jury that Stewart’s conduct was probably unreasonable and legally caused Ward’s death. Other drivers on the track that night would probably be called to testify as fact witnesses and experts and offer their views as to the reasonableness of Stewart’s conduct. Stewart himself could also be called to testify but this may be complicated by his right to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions because it could expose him to criminal charges.
It may be argued that Ward’s own actions and conduct played a role in his death. First, an argument can be made that race car drivers assume the risk of being hurt or killed. Only recently, Central Pennsylvania saw a high profile lawsuit involving a race car driver go to court and the result ended up being in favor of the racetrack. But this is not a case of suing the racetrack.
Second, and more importantly, Ward accepted some degree of safety risk by leaving his race car after it spun out of control. In pre-race meetings, drivers are always discouraged from leaving their race cars during races unless their own safety is imperiled.
However, Ward exited his vehicle after the caution flag was thrown and most likely had no expectation that Stewart’s race car would hit him. Moreover, if it is true that Stewart could see Ward, Stewart’s decision to drive so close to him and perhaps even increase his speed on the approach might prove damning in the minds of jurors. Expert testimony would prove crucial in an interpretive legal debate of what Stewart “should have done.”
Stewart, of course could try to avoid civil litigation by reaching an out-of-court settlement with Ward’s family. A settlement between Stewart and Ward’s family would have Stewart agree to pay a significant amount of money in exchange for Ward’s family agreeing not to sue. Like many high profile cases, the settlement would likely be confidential and not contain any admission of wrongdoing.
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident in Central Pennsylvania, the attorneys of Schmidt Kramer want to help. You may be entitled to receive compensation that can help to pay for medical bills and vehicle repairs that are associated with your crash. Contact us today to find out more about your rights after being injured in a car accident.
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