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Report: Judge deals setback to Tony Stewart, rules civil lawsuit can go forward in Kevin Ward Jr. death

Oral-B USA 500 - Practice

HAMPTON, GA - AUGUST 29: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, speaks to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. Stewart hit and killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race August 9, after Ward Jr. had exited his car. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Tony Stewart has suffered a setback related to the civil lawsuit filed against him by the family of Kevin Ward Jr.

U.S. district judge David Hurd on Tuesday ruled that racing liability waivers signed by Ward do not protect Stewart against wrongful death claims by Ward’s family, according to an ESPN report.

The judge’s decision tosses out a bid by Stewart’s lawyers to dismiss the suit, and also leaves Stewart open to having to undergo a potential jury trial in the civil case.

Ward, 20, was killed when struck by Stewart’s sprint car during a race on Aug. 9, 2014 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York.

Ward’s family filed the federal lawsuit against Stewart nearly a year later after the incident, claiming the retired three-time NASCAR Cup champ was reckless and negligent in the way he operated his sprint car in the race.

Stewart avoided criminal charges when a grand jury chose not to indict him. However, Ward’s family has proceeded with the civil case against Stewart, alleging he intentionally swerved at Ward to intimidate him, but instead struck and killed him in the process.

Stewart’s attorneys had sought dismissal of much of the civil case against him, but Tuesday’s decision will allow the case to go forward. No trial date has been set but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of an out-of-court settlement before then. According to the ESPN report, both sides have been negotiating a potential settlement for the last several months.

Ward was found to have been under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident, and both he and his father signed standard liability waivers before the race.

While the civil suit can now go forward to potential trial, there’s also the possibility that a jury could ultimately decide to dismiss the suit because Ward had an “assumption of risk” when he climbed out of his race car and proceeded down the racetrack and into the path of Stewart’s race car while cars were still running on the racetrack under a caution flag.