As Venus Williams has moved through the brackets at the U.S. Open this week, her involvement in a fatal car crash in June still hangs over her head. The crash, which killed a former tennis pro, Jerome Barson, and injured his wife, has pulled Ms. Williams into a wrongful death personal injury case that has already revealed many of complexities we often see in these circumstances.
The initial reports of the incident, which happened in early June in Palm Beach Garden, Florida, indicated that Ms. Williams ran through a red light before being struck by the Barson’s car. Witnesses said that the Barsons’ car went through the intersection on a green light and hit Ms. Williams, who had presumably come through the intersection on a red light.
But videotape later showed that Ms. Williams had entered the intersection on a green light and had to stop to avoid a car turning in front of her. When the car cleared, she proceeded, not knowing that the light in her direction was now red. She was only going 5 miles per hour when she was hit by the Barsons who were traveling “at speed.”
The Barson family has filed a Wrongful Death case against Venus Williams, but do they have a case? If Ms. Williams had run a red light, she would likely be held responsible for Mr. Barson’s “wrongful death” because she was negligent. But if she entered the intersection on a green, negligence on her part is much less likely.
In July, police cleared Ms. Williams of any criminal wrongdoing in the case. Attorneys for Ms. Williams asserted that Mr. Barson was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, which could shift some of the responsibility to his side. But last week, attorneys for the Barsons asked to see Venus Williams’ cell phone records, likely trying to establish whether or not she was distracted by her phone at the time of the crash. If so, this could tilt the scales back towards a legitimate wrongful death claim.
As in all personal injury cases, lawyers will attempt to establish all of the facts in the case, and then negotiate a proper settlement based on those facts. If Mr. Barson’s death was in fact caused by negligence on the part of Ms. Williams, she will likely have to compensate his estate, and the value of that compensation will be determined based on well-established legal precedents. If the two sides can’t agree on the facts, or on appropriate compensation, the case will go to court and a judge and jury will have to decide based on the evidence and the arguments presented by the attorneys on both sides.
Ms. Williams expressed deep sorrow over the accident, but has continued to maintain her professional focus, turning in some of the best performances of her career during Wimbleton in July, and the first several rounds of the U.S. Open.