Plaintiffs Rest Case In Earnhardt Insurance Lawsuit
By PAUL NOWELL
June 1, 2005
LEXINGTON, N.C. - The plaintiffs in a legal fight over whether an insurer should have paid up when racing star Dale Earnhardt died in a track accident rested their case Wednesday with another expert saying the company should have honored the claim.
Brian Tilden, a consultant who teaches courses about life insurance, testified that mistakes made by the agent who took Earnhardt's life insurance application should have resulted in full coverage of $3.7 million dollars.
Richard Childress Racing, Earnhardt's employer, was required to carry $7.2 million in insurance to cover the driver's base salary, according to a copy of his three-year contract. The contract was released to the public Wednesday after several news organizations challenged a judge's ruling sealing all documents in the case. Five of the contract's eight pages were blacked out, in accordance with an order issued by Superior Court Judge Kimberly Taylor. The jury received the full contract earlier in the trial.
Contracts are closely held secrets in NASCAR because each car owner negotiates individual deals with every driver. Unlike other sports, which often have salary scales, NASCAR has no set range for salary or for the percentage of race winnings or souvenir income paid to each driver.
In 2003, several top teams fought subpoenas from lawyers trying to determine the net worth of driver Jeff Gordon during his divorce. The teams argued that opening their books would reveal competitive secrets and complicate future contract negotiations.
Attorneys for both Richard Childress Racing and insurer United of Omaha can still argue that other exhibits admitted into evidence remain sealed.
RCR has accused United of Omaha of cheating widow Teresa Earnhardt out of the insurance payment after Earnhardt died in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. The racing team took out the policy and is pursuing the matter on the family's behalf. Another insurer has already paid a $3.5 million claim.
United of Omaha claims the policy was never valid for Earnhardt because he had not taken a required physical.
Tilden, the consultant, testified during cross examination that he didn't know of an insurance company paying a claim in the absence of a physical exam.
But, he said, United of Omaha agents created a verbal contract by accepting payment and issuing a temporary insurance policy.