Judge denies motion, settlement hearing for Ward v. Stewart suit will happen Thursday

Kevin Ward Jr. (left) and Tony Stewart (right)

U.S. District Judge David Hurd's response to a motion filed by representatives of Tony Stewart and the family of the late Kevin Ward Jr., which sought to cancel or delay of an in-person settlement hearing, was blunt:

"The attorneys have completely missed the point," Judge Hurd said as he ordered Thursday's settlement hearing to go on as scheduled.

On Tuesday, attorneys for both sides in the suit filed a motion seeking to delay or cancel the hearing. They claimed their settlement agreement doesn't require the court's approval, expressed a desire to keep the terms of their settlement confidential, and said an in-person settlement meeting would result in inconvenience and "significant costs."

In his response denying the motion, Judge Hurd said the two sides had misinterpreted the reason for Thursday's hearing.

"The purpose of the hearing is not to approve the settlement or to reveal any confidential information... it is to determine on the record if a binding, signed settlement agreement, general release and stipulation of dismissal have been made," Hurd's response says. It goes on to say if that's the case, the jury trial scheduled for May 7 will be canceled and the case will be closed.

Last week Judge David Hurd set the hearing for Thursday, April 12 at 2 p.m. after the two sides came to a settlement, according to court filings. The agreement came just weeks before a scheduled trial for the case and after several prior failed settlement attempts.

The settlement would end the civil lawsuit that was filed by Ward's family against Stewart a year after Ward's death. Ward was struck and killed by Stewart's vehicle during the Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Aug. 9, 2014. Ward 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 the 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."

After Judge Hurd's response Wednesday, Brian Gwitt, an attorney representing Tony Stewart, sent a letter to the court requesting permission for Stewart to participate in Thursday's hearing remotely by phone because of a "pre-existing commitment to host more than a dozen representatives of a race team sponsor" in Columbus, Indiana. Gwitt says the event was "scheduled several months ago."

As of Wednesday afternoon there was no filed response to Gwitt's request.

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