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Judge rules in favor of Earnhardt's racing team

| Tuesday, June 14, 2005

LEXINGTON, N.C. -- A judge ruled in favor of the late Dale Earnhardt's car owner Monday, saying an insurance company failed to share legal documents in the case over whether benefits should have been paid after the NASCAR star's death.

Earnhardt died Feb. 18, 2001, in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.

Superior Court Judge Kimberly S. Taylor issued the order against United of Omaha Life Insurance Co. following 12 days of proceedings.

Taylor declined Richard Childress Racing's request to enter a default judgment of $3.7 million, plus interest, and triple that amount as allowed under state law.

Instead, jurors will return Tuesday to hear arguments about whether RCR is entitled to the monetary damages. Last week, attorneys for both sides discovered the legal department of Mutual of Omaha, the parent company of plaintiff United of Omaha Life Insurance Co., failed to share 18 pages of relevant documents before trial.

Omaha Life attorney Stephen Coles asked Taylor to consider lesser sanctions and allow RCR attorneys to re-examine defense witnesses.

"I just don't see any way to remedy this situation," Taylor said. "We all know this should have been provided to the plaintiffs."

Childress Racing claims United of Omaha failed to conduct a proper investigation before deciding not to pay the claim.

The insurer denied the claim because several policy requirements, including a physical, were never completed.

Childress Racing took out the policy on Earnhardt's behalf and made a $5,000 payment in January 2001.

The policy was part of $7.2 million in benefits, according to the driver's contract, which was described in court. A $3.5 million policy with a second insurer, set up in 1996, was paid to Childress Racing and signed over to Earnhardt's widow, Teresa.

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