News organizations filed motions for access to contract

Updated: June 2, 2005, 10:13 AM ET
Associated Press

LEXINGTON, N.C. -- A judge ruled Wednesday that the public can see all the previously sealed exhibits introduced as evidence in a lawsuit pitting the owner of Dale Earnhardt's racing team and the insurance company that refused to pay when he died.

Judge Kimberly Taylor lifted a previous court order that sealed exhibits introduced in the trial. The only exhibit that remained unavailable is an unedited copy of Earnhardt's contract with Richard Childress Racing, which was replaced by a version with five of eight pages blacked out at the request of the plaintiffs.

The decision came in response to a motion seeking access to the exhibits filed by The Associated Press, The Charlotte Observer, NASCAR Scene and the North Carolina Press Association. Unsealed exhibits were expected to be available for review Thursday, clerk of court Brian Shipwash said.

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 portion of Earnhardt's edited contract. That included $3.7 million with insurer United of Omaha, which RCR claims cheated widow Teresa Earnhardt out of the payment after Earnhardt's death in a last-lap crash of the Daytona 500 in 2001.

RCR 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.

Also on Wednesday, the plaintiffs rested their case by presenting another expert saying the insurer should have honored the $3.7 million 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 made the insurer responsible for full coverage.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Stephen Coles, Tilden acknowledged that Earnhardt never made himself available for the physical examination. He testified he knew of no other case in which an insurance company paid a full claim if an applicant did not fulfill requirements.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press