A fatal car accident in West Palm Beach over the summer involved tennis superstar Venus Williams. Initially, police indicated they believed Williams to be at-fault in the crash that killed a 78-year-old man, who was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his wife. However, authorities later altered their position, saying Williams was not unlawfully in the intersection. Williams was not injured in the crash.
As we are seeing with the events still unfolding, the civil case does not have to be halted by the conclusions reached by police. It is ultimately the judge and jury who make the call on civil liability. It should also be noted that the state’s comparative fault law, F.S. 768.81, allows that partial liability by a plaintiff won’t prohibit a claim from being filed. It only means that damages will be proportionately reduced. So if Williams were found to be just 1 percent at-fault for this Palm Beach County crash, decedent’s estate could collect on that 1 percent.
That’s not to say all cases with such slim odds are worth filing. However, damages in wrongful death cases tend to be substantial. Let’s say a jury finds damages in the case to be $1 million, but find decedent’s wife to be 95 percent at fault and Williams only 5 percent to blame. Once damages are proportionately reduced, that would amount to a $50,000 payout. So in a case like that, it may still be worthwhile to pursue a claim, even when the police have already made their determination. The conclusions of law enforcement investigators will only be one piece of the evidence.
Our car accident lawyers in West Palm Beach understand the allegations in this case are that Williams was distracted by her cell phone. However, Williams has countered that it was decedent’s wife who was distracted and failed to stop at the intersection. Williams also alleges another unidentified driver operating a dark-colored sedan turned in front of Williams just before the crash. This allegedly caused Williams to slow and stop to avoid a collision. Attorneys for plaintiff say that claim is unlikely to go to a jury, since the driver was never identified.
The crash happened around 1:15 p.m. near the gated entrance to the community where Williams lives when she is not playing matches. Data from the black boxes of both vehicles (which records details like speed) has not yet been released. However, authorities have estimated Williams was traveling about 5 mph while plaintiff was traveling about 25 mph. Attorneys for the defense have said Williams violated plaintiff’s right-of-way.
Both women are likely to be asked during the deposition if they were distracted or talking on their cell phones. Defense attorneys for Williams have already agreed to turn over her cell phone records that cover one hour before and one hour after the crash. They have declined to allow any further inspection of the phone, asserting it would be too far reaching and invasion of privacy.
Authorities have not issued a final crash report, though they did clarify after initially finding Williams at fault that she had lawfully entered the intersection at a green light. A representative from the department told The Sun Sentinel the investigation was ongoing, but nearing its end.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Venus Williams fatal crash: Lawyers cast blame on victim’s widow, other car, Oct. 27, 2017, By Marc Freeman, The Sun Sentinel
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