Tony Stewart Wrongful Death Lawsuit Takes Ugly Turn

Erin Staley

The wrongful death lawsuit against NASCAR driver Tony Stewart for the August, 2014, death of driver Kevin Ward Jr. has already turned ugly.

As reported by USA Today, on August 9, 2014, Tony Stewart struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. during a caution lap at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Just prior to the accident, Ward exited his car and appeared to angrily approach Stewart’s car. Almost immediately, speculation began as to whether or not Tony Stewart deliberately hit Ward, perhaps without the intention of killing him.

According to CBS News, Ward’s aunt, Wendi Ward, suggested that Stewart accelerated toward Ward in an attempt to intimidate him.

“Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means. Maybe he should get a different headset so he is able to hear on the radio that the car in caution is up high, so go low. Or was he low until he rounded the corner and saw Kevin Jr. standing up for himself?”

Despite the announcement that Kevin Ward Jr. had enough marijuana in his system to impair his judgement at the time of his death, Ward’s family insists that the brunt of the responsibility for the young driver’s death rests with veteran driver Tony Stewart. That point of view became the centerpiece of the Ward family’s statements on the tragic accident in the following year. Kevin Ward Jr. got out of his car, but Tony Stewart tried to intimidate him with disastrous and fatal results.

Despite the fact that a grand jury declined to file charges against Stewart, Ward’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Stewart on August 7, 2015, almost one year after his death. According to the Associated Press, Ward’s family accuses Tony Stewart of gross negligence and accused that Stewart “revved his engine and ran [Ward] over.”

That is where this sad story takes an ugly turn. In his response, Stewart and his lawyer allege that Ward was impaired by marijuana at the time of his death, and shouldn’t have been out of his car at all.

“Stewart was not aware that anyone had exited their vehicle. [Stewart] did not see Ward, Jr. or anyone else walking on foot on the track until just prior to contact, and did not know the identity of the person walking on the track until afterward.”

The Ward family called Stewart’s response “appalling,” and pointed out that Stewart did not take drug or alcohol tests following the accident. The accusation seems to suggest that the family thinks Stewart may also have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the accident.

[Photo by Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images]