NASCAR fans in California may have heard about the tragedy that took place on a New York racetrack approximately a year ago when Tony Stewart struck and killed a fellow driver. This incident is now giving rise to a complex car accident wrongful death claim with the family of the victim filing a civil suit against the superstar NASCAR driver.
Stewart was participating in a sprint car race in New York when the accident occurred. The victim, a 20-year-old driver on the circuit, had been involved in an accident. The man exited his car and began to run along the track as Stewart's car was passing by. Stewart said he was unable to avoid hitting the man, who was struck by Stewart's car and killed.
After it was determined that Stewart had smoked marijuana before the accident, a grand jury deliberated filing criminal charges against Stewart in the man's death, but ultimately decided against it. Recently, the victim's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Stewart.
Wrongful death lawsuits, like all civil lawsuits, have different standards of proof than criminal cases. In a criminal case, prosecutors have to prove that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove guilt by a preponderance of the evidence. Legal terminology aside, the idea is that it is relatively easier for plaintiffs to prove guilt in a civil case than it is for prosecutors to prove guilt in a criminal case.
In a wrongful death case, the victim's family members seek compensation for the financial damages they suffered as a result of losing their loved one due to the negligence of another party. For instance, they may recover income they would have received had their loved one lived to continue working and contributing to the family. They may also recover medical expenses and other damages.
Wrongful death lawsuits are emotionally and technically difficult. Experienced attorneys can help grieving families understand how the law may apply to their circumstances and advise them on their legal options.
Source: ESPN "No easy answers in wrongful death suit," Bob Pockrass, Aug. 13, 2015