Judge agrees to extend protective order

Updated: May 27, 2005, 9:00 PM ET
Associated Press

LEXINGTON, N.C. – A judge hearing a challenge to an insurer's refusal to pay a $3.7 million death claim on the late race car driver Dale Earnhardt agreed Friday to withhold from the jury parts of Earnhardt's racing contract.

Superior Court Judge Kimberly Taylor extended an earlier protective order Thursday at the request of the attorney for Richard Childress Racing – Earnhardt's employer – who argued some of the documents, including Earnhardt's contract, were proprietary.

That ruling came after a reporter for The Associated Press asked to review evidence introduced to the jury in open court, but kept from the media and courtroom spectators. The reporter was told the information was under a protective order.

The AP, joined by The Charlotte Observer, NASCAR Scene and the North Carolina Press Association, later filed a motion asking the court to reconsider.

Taylor did not rule Friday on the AP request; the issue, along with a request by the AP and several news organizations to unseal documents in the case, is expected to be handled Tuesday, court clerk Brian Shipwash said.

The judge also issued an order prohibiting cameras from the courtroom.

RCR has accused insurer United of Omaha of cheating widow Teresa Earnhardt out of a $3.7 million payment after Earnhardt died in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. RCR took out the policy and is pursuing the matter on the family's behalf.

The car owner said the insurer failed to properly investigate before denying payment just days after the driver's death. The company argues the policy was never valid for Earnhardt because he had not taken a required physical.

Testimony Friday included depositions from insurance company executives and investigators, who said they conducted an investigation into whether Earnhardt had a valid policy.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press