Pamela Ward, the mother of dirt track racer Kevin Ward appeared in court last week to announce that she reached a settlement with NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart in the wrongful death lawsuit of her son. It was also announced that the ruling couldn’t be finalized due to additional details needing to be worked out, but it is expected that the two sides will officially reach a settlement soon.
“We felt like we were being forced to settle,” Ward said in an interview after the settlement was announced. “We wanted (Stewart) to be held accountable in front of a jury of his peers. He was not held accountable in a criminal case. He basically has never been held responsible at any point. I basically feel our lawyers have let us down as we were informed a month before trial that they would not be willing to take this case to trial.”
The Ward family wanted to take Stewart to trial over the death of their son. Stewart rave over Ward’s son during a dirt track race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York in 2014. During a heat race at the track, Stewart and Ward were battling for position. Stewart then got into the rear bumper of Wards car, which propelled him into the wall, knocking him out of the race. Ward got out to try to confront Stewart over his actions, and was run over by Stewart in the process.
The family had been unsuccessful in bringing charges against Stewart in an Ontario County court. A jury decided against charging Stewart with second degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. The decision came the grand jury interviewed twenty witnesses to the incident and reviewed video recordings of the race.
The family then filed a wrongful death suit against Stewart, but were told a month before trial by their attorney Mark Lanier that he would drop the case if it went to trial. Mrs. Ward has stated in previous interviews that her intentions were never to seek financial compensation, but to hold Stewart responsible for his actions.
“I wanted the judge to know that we wanted to take the case to trial,” Ward said. “When I said we didn’t have any means to do so, I wasn’t able to say it was because we couldn’t find new representation to take it to trial. With no other means, the only thing we could do was settle. I thought the judge would come back and ask us, ‘What do you mean you don’t have the means to go to trial?’”
Her attorney, Matt Lanier, defended his actions. “I think they really wanted a trial and wanted some measure of vindication,” he said. “We recognized that going to trial was going to take a lot of money in the long run and the money we got for them (via the settlement) was more than they would have received if they went to trial and won, especially after the expenses were deducted. That’s the point (of a case taken on contingency). They made that decision. You can’t force somebody to settle. I did not force them to settle.”
Lanier explained that his firm is primarily focused on winning monetary settlements and that if the Ward family was looking for a trial irrespective of a financial reward, he was probably not the right attorney for them. Lanier was asked whether he would have dropped the Ward’s as clients if they insisted on taking the case to trial but declined to answer that question directly.
No details of the settlement have been made public and it’s not expected that any will be made public by either side.
Photo by Ray Ashley via Wikimedia Commons