Very recently, NASCAR superstar, Tony Stewart was involved in a tragic accident in which his vehicle struck and killed an individual on the racetrack. Tony Stewart was initially involved in a collision with fellow driver Kevin Ward in which Ward spun out after being hit by Stewart. Appearing to be frustrated after being hit, Kevin Ward got out of his car and went onto the track to confront Tony Stewart. Unfortunately, in doing so he was hit by Tony Stewart’s car and was ultimately killed.
To date, the police investigating the matter have suggested that Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges in relation to the incident. However, that does not afford him protection from a civil lawsuit. In Alberta, to be convicted of criminal charges requires proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt (99.9%). For a civil matter, a case is determined on a balance of probabilities (50% +1). Therefore, if this accident were to have occurred in Alberta, the family of Kevin Ward may seek to obtain a civil Judgment against Tony Stewart for the wrongful death that occurred. Under the balance of probabilities standard, this may be possible.
In Alberta, there is legislation to govern such tragic situations in the Fatal Accidents Act. This legislation provides compensation to the spouse of the deceased, their parents, and/or children. Not only are the potential claimants entitled to damages for bereavement, but also may be subject to reimbursement for funeral related expenses and for dependency if they financially relied on the deceased.
However, when liability is in dispute, any award is reduced by a finding of contributory negligence. It would be difficult to envision a Judge reviewing this matter and not finding such a reduction in the award. While no one can get into the head of Kevin Ward to determine why he ran onto the racetrack, lawyers for Tony Stewart would surely argue that there was no reason to take such action. They would state that Kevin Ward took his life into his own hands in taking such action. On the other hand, lawyers for the family of Kevin Ward will likely argue that Tony Stewart is one of the best drivers in the world and happens to have a very bad temper. It would be argued that he should have full control of his vehicle at all times and should be watching where he is going at all times during the race and should be in full control. There should be no reason to make contact with anything or anyone on the track.
Time will tell what will happen in this case and it will be an interesting one to follow as more details emerge.