Did Tony Stewart’s Reaction At Charlotte Open The Door For Legal Action?
BY DAVE GRAYSON.
We all saw the post melee at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Brad Keselowski expressed post race anger, on pit road, towards Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Hamlin did his best to get his hands on Keselowski while, Kenseth actually managed to find his source of anger in the garage and launched a free for all that required the efforts of a large crowd of officials and crew members to separate the two drivers.
In the middle of this melee was driver Tony Stewart, a totally innocent bystander who didn’t have a dog in this fight. He just parked his race car on pit road at the wrong place and wrong time. Keselowski’s antics resulted in hitting the rear of Stewart’s Chevrolet which created a significant amount of crash damage. An understandably angry Stewart placed his car in reverse gear and, in a move often associated with demolition derbys, created a significant amount of crash damage to the front nose of Keselowski’s car.
Stewart’s reverse move was a perfectly understandable reaction; He had every right to be angry. As both the driver and car owner of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, his company is going to have to cover the repair cost of replacing the rear clip of the car.
However, Stewart is in a very unique position due to the tragic racing accident that claimed the life of Kevin Ward Jr. back on August 9th in New York state where Stewart was participating in a sprint car race. While a New York based grand jury cleared him of any possible criminal charges, there is still the matter of possible civil litigation often referred to as a wrongful death suit.
This possible issue was recently explored during the October 13th edition of “NASCAR America”, a racing news program aired on weekdays by the NBC Sports Network. When asked if Stewart’s reaction, to what happened at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, could come back to haunt him, NBC Legal Analyst Jack Furlong replied: “it absolutely could and if you’re Tony Stewart’s lawyer you’re saying run Tony run.”
There are some important differences regarding procedures used in criminal court cases and civil litigation trials.For example: during the course of a criminal court proceeding there is the element of relevance. If a District Attorney, during the course of presenting evidence, or questioning a witness, attempts to bring up a confrontational moment from Stewart’s racing past. the defense attorney can shout “objection-relevance.” In most cases, a judge is going to say “sustained”.
However, in a civil litigation the rules are wide open. Anything controversial moment attributed to Stewart’s racing career can be introduced on the record. Let’s face it, over the years there has been plenty of occasions when Stewart’s actions and comments has generated racing news headlines. Civil litigation can easily become a situation where something from the past can come back and haunt you again.
That’s why Furlong advised Stewart to be extremely careful regarding any controversial situation. Furlong next pointed out that “there’s a federal evidence rule that’s used pretty much around the country known as 404D. It says when you are considering, in this case, a wrongful death suit you’re asking was this guy negligent? Was he reckless? Was he at fault in the collision between himself and a pedestrian even when on a hot race track? We look to other bad acts, other examples of distemper, other examples of acting reckless on a track. It can be before the incident. it can be after the incident.”
Furlong concluded his appearance on “NASCAR America” by saying: “if I’m Tony’s lawyer, I’m saying Tony run the other way. You cannot be in a confrontation that will come back to haunt you and it absolutely could in this incidence.”
At this point in time, it’s not exactly clear what the Ward family will decide regarding possible civil litigation against Stewart. Until then, Stewart really does need to be careful regarding what he does and says while standing in the public eye.