NASCAR: Tony Stewart And Kevin Ward Jr. Lawsuit Update

May 13, 2016; Dover, DE, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart signs autographs for fans during practice for the AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O
May 13, 2016; Dover, DE, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart signs autographs for fans during practice for the AAA 400 Drive For Autism at Dover International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O /

The complicated case involving the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. and  three-time NASCAR Tony Stewart is taking an interesting twist in court as Tony fights for his own insurance carrier to represent him.

The August 9th 2014 incident in upstate New York where Kevin Ward Jr. was killed on the track is slowly starting to make its way through court. Stewart’s insurance carrier, Axis, has denied coverage or interest in the case as it has deemed the actions to be specifically outside the policy. The hearings today in court are based on whether Axis as Stewart’s insurance carrier is obligated to provide a defense in the wrongful death suits the family of Ward have filed.

The policy that Tony Stewart obtained from Axis had several provisions excluding specific activities related to racing. That is what has led us to todays hearing. In court today representatives for Axis are presenting the exclusion that states:

"This insurance does not apply to claims or actions brought by one racing vehicle driver against another racing vehicle driver. However in the event of such a claim or action, coverage remains in effect for the First Named Insured and any other applicable insureds; however, coverage is specifically excluded for the racing vehicle driver who is the object of such claim or action."

The representatives of Stewart are claiming, among other things, that once Ward stepped out of the car he was no longer a racing vehicle driver.

I asked a VP of claims who is licensed in commercial and auto claims to try and explain to me what was going on as I thought your carrier, even if you were at fault, had to protect your interests. Apparently in most cases that is correct, but when there are specific exclusions like the ones in Stewart’s policy things can change.

As it was explained to me, to put it simply, AXIS has found no grounds to cover Stewart as the activity he was engaged in is explicitly excluded. Once AXIS determined that the actions were excluded they were at that point no longer obligated to provide a defense for Stewart for any actions taken by the Ward family.

The definition of “racing vehicle driver” is going to be debated here as a key point. Stewart’s team is trying to claim that once Ward left his car he was no longer a driver. In the explanation I received, the fact that the policy did not define “while in the car” is going to make this a difficult task for Stewart’s representatives. The argument from AXIS being that Tony hitting Ward on the track with his car was the same as if they were both out of their cars and got in a physical confrontation.

Anyone who has been to small time racing events see drivers get into confrontations regularly. That is what AXIS is saying this is akin to. In those cases as well, insurance companies have long been excluded from providing representation for drivers in civil cases.

Related Story: NASCAR Basically Slapped Tony Stewart in the Face

Even if Stewart is able to win the argument that Ward was not a driver when he stepped out of the vehicle, there sill is a list of specific events that AXIS would cover Stewart if he was involved in. Unfortunately that list does not appear to include the the Empire Sprints event that Stewart participated in that night. It does include World of Outlaws (65 events), USAC Sprint (30 events) and USAC Silver Crown (10 events).

This is just the begging of the court proceeding for Stewart in this matter and this should be in no way mistaken for and decision of liability or guilt of Tony Stewart in the case with the family of Kevin Ward Jr.. This is just a case that will decide whether AXIS will have to provide representation for Stewart during the civil case or if Stewart himself will have to pay for what could turn out to be an expensive legal representation.