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Monday, July 14
Updated: July 15, 2:32 PM ET
Announcement to be made on Tuesday
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- Safety manufacturer Bill Simpson's lawsuit against NASCAR over the death of Dale Earnhardt is scheduled to start Sept. 13 here in Federal Court but it may have been decided Monday.
NASCAR president Mike Helton and Simpson met for three hours Monday afternoon with U.S. Federal District Court magistrate Sue Shields and the result of that meeting will be announced Tuesday.
"There will be a joint statement issued tomorrow by NASCAR out of Daytona Beach and that is all we can say," said attorney James H. Voyles, who along with Robert Horn, are representing Simpson.
Helton declined to speak to reporters as he left the building, as did Simpson.
Asked if this meeting would indicate a settlement, Voyles replied: "I wouldn't speculate about anything. Just wait for the joint statement. It explains everything."
Following Earnhardt's death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR officials concluded a Simpson seat belt had separated at impact and allowed the seven-time Winston Cup champion to lurch forward, hit the steering wheel and die of blunt force trauma (basal skull fracture).
Simpson, a pioneer in motorsports safety since the late 1950s, immediately issued a statement that his belts had never failed when properly installed. He also claimed Earnhardt's belts were not properly installed and he had warned his longtime friend repeatedly of the risk.
In an interview with ESPN.com in August of 2001, Simpson said: "Dale liked to pull his belts up instead of pulling them down. We specify how the belts should be mounted and at what angle (45 degrees) but Dale's seat was four inches lower than anyone else's to accommodate how his belts were mounted.
"I was always telling him to at least make the hole in the seat larger so the adjuster wouldn't get hung up in it. It was not up to spec by eight inches. I warned Dale all the time this was going to bite him some day but he just laughed and said I was going to check out before he did."
After an investigation, Dr. Barry Myers of Duke University concluded that Earnhardt died of a violent head whip and the seat belt failure did not appear to have played a role in the fatal injuries.
NASCAR then issued a 293-page report that said after a six-month study, Earnhardt's broken seat belt was one of many factors that contributed to Earnhardt's death. Dr. James Raddin said the back of Earnhardt's head was exposed when his helmet slid forward upon the first impact with Ken Schrader's car. Because of the angle of his head and separation of the seat belt, the 49-year-old NASCAR legend's head either hit the steering wheel or inside of the car. A few months later, NASCAR issued a bulletin that all of its teams must install seat belts to the "manufacturers specifications."
Simpson asked NASCAR for a written apology but was denied so, in February of 2002, he filed an $8.5 million action against NASCAR for false invasion of privacy, defamation and defamation by implication.
Simpson Safety Productions, his original company that he sold during the aftermath of Earnhardt's death, is not part of the lawsuit. Simpson has since started a new helmet and racing safety company called Impact Racing.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker was scheduled to preside if the suit went to trial but Shields requested an audience with Helton and Simpson on Monday. And Tuesday's announcement will likely reveal an out-of-court settlement, state that the case has been thrown out or that the suit will make it to trial, as scheduled, in two months.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories