August 15, 2014

Tony Stewart’s Last Clear Chance

No one is discussing the pending civil lawsuit that Tony Stewart will likely face.

Tony Stewart’s involvement in a recent race track death has been well reported in the news media. People around the water cooler and on Facebook are debating whether or not Tony Stewart should face criminal charges. Whether or not Stewart is charged, we should all mourn the tragic death of Kevin Ward. From what we know now, it appears unlikely that Tony Stewart will be charged with a crime. However, I believe that Kevin Ward’s family will likely bring a civil suit.

What We Know

Lets review what we know right now. Kevin Ward was struck and killed when he was hit by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart on August 9, 2014. Stewart and Ward were competing on a dirt track in New York in a sprint car event. Sprint cars are open wheeled race cars with high powered engines. Here is what happened according to the Associated Press:

After a bump from Stewart sent Ward’s winged car spinning into the wall, the young driver climbed out and walked onto the track in his black firesuit, gesturing angrily. Stewart’s No. 14 car seemed to fishtail, and Ward was thrown through the air as his parents and fans watched in horror.

A video of the incident has gone viral on social networks with people commenting on what they think happened. Some folks think Stewart should be charged with murder, others put the blame on Ward. No one is talking about the pending civil lawsuit.

The Video Doesn’t Tell Us Anything

I’ve seen the video and believe it is impossible to justify criminal charges based solely on that tape. People should consider that these sprint cars don’t drive the same as street vehicles. Additionally, driving on a dirt track is completely different. To turn a race car on a dirt track, the driver must use the throttle and steering wheel to slide around the turn.

Stewart is only captured on the video moments before hitting Ward. Ward is in the middle of the track in a turn. As Stewart’s car enters the video, you can see that his car is already sliding up the track. After the car hits Ward, Stewart’s vehicle moves up the track. Additionally, one can hear an engine accelerating just before the collision. We need to see Stewart’s path well before the collision.

To see Stewart’s trajectory, we would need to see more of his path around the track. Additionally, it is difficult to say that Stewart turned into Ward or sped up to hit him. Some people point out the sound of the engine revving just before the collision as evidence of Stewart’s guilt. However, we don’t know where the microphone was that picked up that sound.

It appears from the video that it was recorded from the opposite side of the track and it is likely that the microphone was on the opposite side as well. The microphone is more likely to have picked up sounds from the numerous other cars that were on the track that night. There is no objective proof that the sound is from Stewarts car.

Additionally, we don’t know Stewart’s view of the track as he was coming around to Ward’s position. Was Stewart able to see Ward? There was no radio communication telling Stewart that there was a driver on the track. Additionally, it appears that Stewart was already into the turn, which means his wheels would have been pointing up the track. That Stewart’s car traveled up the track after the impact is also expected physics even without steering input from the driver.

It has been reported that there is another video that may have another perspective. Hopeful, it gives us additional information about the collision so we can come to some conclusion.

For criminal charges, the government must bring enough proof into court to establish Stewart is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in South Carolina, a civil lawsuit only requires the preponderance or greater weight of the evidence. This means just enough evidence to tip in Ward’s favor and not Stewarts. That is a much easier case.

What was Stewart’s Last Clear Chance?

One burning question, even if you believe that Stewart did not intend this collision, is whether he could have avoided it. No one believes that Ward should have been out of his car and on the track to confront Stewart. Ward clearly put himself in harm’s path . South Carolina law says that when someone puts themselves in danger, they are responsible for the harm. However, if another person sees someone in danger, could have voided the harm, and fails to do that, they are, at least partially, responsible. This is known in the law as the Last Clear Chance.

Some have commented that Stewart may have been attempting to get close to Ward to scare him. I don’t think there are any facts that support their belief. However, if true, Stewart may have had the last clear chance to avoid the collision and death. If that is the case, Stewart may be responsible for money damages in a civil lawsuit.

The law allows a jury to place percentages of fault on the people involved in a collision. Lets say you believe that Stewart might not be 100% wrong, but deserves some of the blame. The law allows that. However, South Carolina law also says that an injured person can’t win if the injured person was 51% or more at fault. New York law allows an injured person to recover even if the injured person was the majority cause of his injuries.

So we have to get answers to these questions:

  • Did Tony Stewart mean to hit Ward?
  • Could Tony Stewart have avoided hitting Ward?
  • Is Ward to blame at all, and if so, how much?

What do you think?

If you have been hurt in a car accident:

  1. Please read why I don’t believe it was an accident, here;
  2. Request my Free Guide, South Carolina Car Accident Claims Guide in Plain English, by clicking here.
  3. Call at 888-510-9359 or contact me for a free consultation. There is no obligation.
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Brian Murphy

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