Judge allows claims against Tony Stewart in wrongful death suit to move forward

Tony Stewart walks to court in Syracuse in June 2017/ CNYCentral file photo

A federal judge has decided each of the counts in a civil lawsuit filed by a Port Leyden family against former NASCAR star Tony Stewart for the death of Kevin Ward Jr. in 2014 can move forward, according to ESPN's Bob Pockrass.

Pockrass' report on ESPN says U.S. District Judge David Hurd ruled waivers signed by Ward before an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on August 9, 2014 do not protect Stewart from claims of wrongful death.

"Today the Court dispensed with all of Tony Stewart's grounds for dismissal ... clearing the way for the Wards to present their case to a jury of their peers," Ward attorney Mark Lanier told ESPN. The ruling means a jury may end up decided if Stewart is liable for Ward's death.

Ward was struck and killed by Stewart's vehicle during that race. The 20-year-old had exited his vehicle after contact between his car and Stewart's sent Ward spinning into the wall at the upstate New York dirt track. Ward appeared to be yelling in the direction of Stewart when he was fatally struck by Stewart's car.

An Ontario County grand jury cleared Stewart of any criminal wrongdoing just a few weeks after the deadly collision; the District Attorney said Ward had marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.

Ward's parents filed a lawsuit against Stewart in 2015, claiming the former NASCAR star "could have easily acted reasonably and with prudence to avoid striking Ward, just as all other drivers had done" prior. The lawsuit further alleges Stewart "acted with disregard" to the the 20-year-old driver's life when he accelerated his car, "driving his vehicle in a manner that would terrorize Ward and thereafter strike, severely injure and kill Ward."

If you're reading this article on the mobile app, click here to see the lawsuit.

Judge Hurd was ruling on a request by Stewart to have all but one of the counts against him in the lawsuit — which include wrongful death, pain and suffering, intentional-reckless conduct and gross negligence — tossed out . The one exception was an intentional-reckless conduct count.

According to ESPN, Judge Hurd's decision leaves the door open for all four counts to be analyzed by a jury if a settlement is not reached. At least three prior attempts to settle the case, including a meeting between the two sides in Syracuse in June, each failed. No trial date has been set for the case.

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