By now, you’ve probably heard that Venus Williams – tennis champion and Palm Beach Gardens resident – was involved in a fatal car accident back in June.
The police initially said Williams was at fault for the accident – although she was only traveling five miles per hour – for failing to yield the right of way to another driver when entering an intersection. Linda Barson was that other driver, and her husband Jerome was in the passenger seat.
Williams claimed she entered an intersection on a green light and had to stop halfway through due to traffic being backed up. It was at this point that Barson – traveling 25 miles per hour – also entered the intersection on a green light and T-boned Williams’ vehicle. Two weeks later, 78-year-old Jerome Barson died from his injuries, which included severed main arteries.
The Barson family then filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Williams, citing that her negligence caused Jerome Barson’s death.
While this might seem to be fairly standard for a death caused by a car accident, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department has since rescinded their claim that Williams was at fault for the accident after releasing video footage that shows Williams lawfully entering the intersection.
Although the police say Williams is no longer at fault, Barson’s lawyer, Michael Steiger, continues to say the opposite. Yes, the video shows that Williams legally entered the intersection, but Steiger claims that Williams still caused the accident and violated Barson’s right of way.
Williams, who wasn’t injured in the accident, hasn’t been charged or cited, and the police are continuing to investigate the crash.
Legal Ramifications for Changing Who’s At Fault in a Car Crash
When this story first broke, it seemed that Venus Williams was not only liable for the car accident, but also potentially liable for the death of Jerome Barson.
Now that the police have amended their account of the accident, Williams’ liability diminishes for both the accident and Barson’s death.
By showing that she legally entered the intersection and obeyed Florida’s traffic laws, she most likely won’t receive a traffic citation for careless driving, violating a traffic signal, or violating the right of way. Unless the investigation turns up other evidence, Williams also most likely won’t be charged criminally with vehicular homicide or reckless driving.
As for the wrongful death suit, Williams is in a much better position now that she hasn’t been labeled at fault for the accident. A wrongful death suit relies on the negligence of the other person, but if Williams was driving in accordance with the law and did everything as she was supposed to, then it might be difficult to prove that she was negligent.
In fact, if Williams had been seriously injured in the accident, she might have been the one to bring her own lawsuit – against Linda Barson.
Although the investigation is ongoing and more evidence could possibly come into play, this change in the police report completely alters the landscape of the lawsuit.
The Importance of Police Reports in Car Accidents
Williams’ accident highlights how important police reports can be when it comes to car accidents and filing a lawsuit.
Now, police reports are usually inadmissible in a courtroom since they are essentially hearsay. Why? Because the police officer writing the report most likely did not actually see the accident happen. He or she gets statements from the drivers and witnesses and compiles then into the report.
Along with specific facts about the accident – time, date, location, weather, vehicle damage, identifying information about the drivers, etc. – the report might also contain the unbiased opinion of the law enforcement officer regarding who was at fault for the accident based on the accounts of everyone involved.
However, even though this report might not make it to the courtroom, it can be an especially helpful tool when negotiating a personal injury settlement. For example, the Barsons might have had more leverage in getting a higher settlement with the original police report claiming Venus Williams was at fault for their accident. Now that the police have reversed that decision and are saying Williams was not at fault, the Barsons no longer have that advantage.
Car accidents can be overwhelming for everyone, regardless of who was at fault. That’s why if you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you should reach out to an experienced Florida car accident attorney to discuss the details of your case and see if you’re potentially entitled to compensation for your damages.
About the Author:
John K. Lawlor, a South Florida personal injury attorney who focuses his practice on complex personal injury, wrongful death, and professional malpractice, founded the law firm of Lawlor, White & Murphey in 1998. Since 1995, Mr. Lawlor’s trial advocacy and litigation skills, as well as his wide-ranging legal expertise, have provided plaintiffs and their families with a distinct advantage when seeking financial compensation and justice for injuries caused by the negligence of others. Mr. Lawlor is an EAGLE member of the Florida Bar Association and an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Broward County Justice Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and several professional associations.