Stewart awaits decision on dismissal

New York judge to make ruling in former NASCAR driver’s wrongful death lawsuit

A federal judge heard oral arguments by attorneys on a motion to dismiss multiple claims in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against former NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, but his decision is expected to take at least a few weeks.

Arguments in the case of the family of Kevin Ward Jr. against Stewart, with Judge David N. Hurd presiding, began at 10 a.m. Friday in U.S. District Court in Utica, New York.

The proceeding lasted about an hour and included attorneys on both sides making arguments and answering questions from the judge, according to media reports.

Stewart, 46, of Columbus, a three-time NASCAR champion, and Ward competed in an Empire Super Sprints race Aug. 9, 2014, at Canandaigua (New York) Motorsports Park, where Stewart’s car struck and killed Ward, who was 20 at the time.

The following month, a 23-person grand jury in Ontario County, New York, declined to indict Stewart on either of two charges: manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide.

Kevin Ward Sr. and Pam Ward filed the lawsuit Aug. 4, 2015, and blame Stewart for the death of their son.

The parents claim that Stewart’s intent to drive toward and scare their son went awry and that he is liable. Stewart claims that Ward, who had marijuana in his system, created a dangerous situation that Stewart couldn’t avoid when he exited his car and walked toward Stewart’s car.

Stewart has asked that claims of wrongful death and negligence, conscious pain and suffering, and terror be dismissed in the lawsuit filed by Ward’s parents. If Stewart’s request is granted, only an intentional/reckless conduct claim would remain.

Friday’s hearing focused on the inherent risk Ward took by competing in the race and whether waivers signed by Ward and Stewart before the race prevent Ward’s family from suing, according to reports by syracuse.com and ESPN.

Stewart attorney Angela Krahulik argued that the waivers protect him from a lawsuit, syracuse.com said.

Ward attorney Ben Major argued that evidence shows Ward suffered and feared for his life in the split seconds before or after the crash, a point Krahulik disputed, syracuse.com said.

About a dozen Ward family members and supporters in the courtroom wore clothes featuring his number and car, ESPN and syracuse.com reported. They did not comment while leaving the courthouse, syracuse.com said.

Stewart was present in the courtroom but did not speak. He also did not comment to reporters as he left, according to syracuse.com.

Previously, a settlement conference on June 23 with both parties failed to resolve the case, according to court documents.

Both parties also had attempted mediation. However, the two mediation sessions, on April 18 and June 6, did not end with resolution, court records state.

The judge said at the conclusion of Friday’s hearing that he expects to issue a lengthy written decision on the arguments, which could take at least few weeks to prepare, according to ESPN and syracuse.com.

No date has been set for a trial, according to court records.

Attorneys for both sides declined comment, according to ESPN.

What's next

Judge David N. Hurd must render his decision on whether to dismiss multiple claims by Tony Stewart in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Kevin Ward Jr.

Even if all the claims Stewart wants dismissed are granted, an intentional/reckless conduct claim would remain. That would mean that either a trial or a settlement would be the next step. Not trial date has been scheduled.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.