NASCAR driver Tony Stewart made national headlines for a fatal crash that occurred Saturday night after his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. in a Saturday night race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. To recap, Stewart, who entered this race despite being scheduled for an actual NASCAR event the next day, had an altercation with Ward Jr. while rounding the track which resulted in knocking Ward Jr’s sprint car to the side of the track. A furious Ward Jr. exited his vehicle and walked onto the race track and pointed his finger at Stewart. As Steward was passing Ward Jr., the back end of his car fishtailed and struck Ward Jr. and ultimately killed him right at the scene.
I can honestly say with a straight face that Tony Stewart will not be facing murder charges for this fatal crash as it appears clear that he did not purposely try to injure or kill Ward Jr. The county sheriff and prosecutor are investigating the case right now and I believe it is possible we could see manslaughter charges against Stewart. The level of charge depends upon the intent or what is called mens rea. The prosecutor could conclude that Stewart acted with reckless indifference towards Ward Jr. by driving so close and swerving his car in a way that caused it to fishtail into Ward Jr. The prosecutor may conclude that Steward should have known these actions would cause great bodily harm. These are the types of charges that result often times from drunk driving or reckless driving deaths. The intent (mens rea) was not purposeful but it could be argued that Stewart acted with such indifference towards Ward Jr. that he should be charged. Even if charges are brought, I think this will be a very tough case for the prosecutor because Ward Jr. was acting reckless himself by walking out onto the race track and could be viewed merely as an accident.
There is no question that the family of Ward Jr. will file a wrongful death lawsuit against both Tony Stewart and his team and the owners of the race track. The lawsuit will allege that Stewart acted negligently by driving so close and driving in a way causing it to fishtail into Ward Jr. Further, Ward Jr.’s attorneys will argue that Stewart, a veteran driver, should have know that his car could have reacted that way and a fish tail action could have swerved into Ward Jr. Again, like the criminal case, this will be a tough to prove for Ward Jr.’s family because their son acted negligently himself by walking onto the track. Ward Jr., no doubt, will be found at least partially at fault for his own death. This is referred to as comparative fault, which depending on the percentage found by the jury, could reduce any award given to the family. If Stewart (and the race track) are found at least 51% at fault, then Stewart and the race track owners will have to pay damages to the Ward Jr. family for his wrongful death.
This is a case I will be following closely and will definitely be posting about again once we learn more information.
If you or someone you love has been involved in an Illinois wrongful death case or a Chicago car crash, then call Chicago personal injury attorney, Aaron Bryant, for a free legal consultation at 312-614-1076.