The Ward Family speaks on the wrongful death lawsuit following the settlement
In late February 2018, the judge on the case set a final trial date of May 7, 2018. This came after years of court dates to disclose the terms of the trial.
The two parties debated whether or not track waivers should be honored. Or if they even mattered. The case was put on pause as Tony Stewart battled with his insurance company over who was liable to pay the court or settlement costs. The case also saw delay’s for a hurricane that affected the Texas based law firm of the Ward family.
In early April, settlement discussions surfaced to the media. This news came just a month ahead of the trial date.
However, as talks of a settlement arose, the Family of Kevin Ward Jr were not ready to settle. They intended to take the case to trial.
They told their law firm that. In return, the family’s law firm threatened to quit the case if the family didn’t take the settlement deal.
The Ward family scrambled to find new lawyers to take the case to trial. With just a month before a trial date, they decided it was too prohibitive to locate a new law firm.
On Thursday, the two parties sat in front of a judge in Utica, N.Y. to agree to settlement terms. Pamela Ward told the judge they did agree to a settlement though she also told the judge that she “wanted to have a trial” in the case.
After the trial, the Ward Family spoke about the case for the first time since it began in 2015.
“We felt like we were being forced to settle,”Pamela Ward told USA Today in her first interview since the settlement. “We wanted (Stewart) to be held accountable in front of a jury of his peers. He was not held accountable in a criminal case. He basically has never been held responsible at any point. I basically feel our lawyers have let us down as we were informed a month before trial that they would not be willing to take this case to trial.”
The family made clear to detail, “the case was never about a financial award.”
“I wanted the judge to know that we wanted to take the case to trial,” Ward said.
She concluded, “When I said we didn’t have have any means to do so, I wasn’t able to say it was because we couldn’t find new representation to take it to trial. With no other means, the only thing we could do was settle. I thought the judge would come back and ask us, ‘What do you mean you don’t have the means to go to trial?’ ”
Mark Lanier, the founder of The Lanier Law firm was the head lawyer for the Ward family. They are due to receive about 1/3 of the settlement as the Ward family didn’t have to pay out of pocket for their law firm. The firm stepped in on contingency.
“I think they really wanted a trial and wanted some measure of vindication,” Lanier told USA Today.
He continue, “We recognized that going to trial was going to take a lot of money in the long run and the money we got for them (with the settlement) was more than they would have received if they went to trial and won, especially after the expenses were deducted. That’s the point. They made that decision. You can’t force somebody to settle. I did not force them to settle.”
“Generally, we are hired in a case to get the best monetary recovery,” Lanier said. “If a client doesn’t care about a monetary recover and just wants a trial where we will not win that amount – or win at all – we are probably not the right firm.”
Back in August 2014, Kevin Ward Jr was involved in an on-track incident with Tony Stewart at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Ward climbed from his car during a caution period. He then walked down the banking at the dimly lit dirt track while in a black suit and black helmet to show displeasure with Stewart.
However, as Stewart came around the corner, Ward was directly in the path of Stewart’s sprint car. Ward was struck by the right rear tire of Stewart’s race car and died at the scene.
Stewart was found ‘not-guilty’ in the criminal case. This wrongful death lawsuit began in 2015 and could have had a different result than a criminal case.
Related: Judge denies appeal; Trial date set