Post-crash, Tennis star Venus Williams now hit with lawsuit

Venus Williams looks on during her tennis match against Japan's Kurumi Nara at the Roland Garros 2017 French Open.
Venus Williams looks on during her tennis match against Japan's Kurumi Nara at the Roland Garros 2017 French Open.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES/REUTERS) - Venus Williams, the world’s former top-ranked tennis player, is being sued by the family of a man who died after a traffic accident involving the tennis star.

Jerome Barson, 78, a passenger in a car driven by his wife Linda, died as a result of head injuries sustained in the collision in Florida on June 9.

Williams was the driver at fault in the two-car crash, according to the initial police report on the incident released on Thursday (June 30). 

Michael Steinger, representing the Barson family, said the victim’s relatives are trying to get police to release evidence relating to the incident. 

News of the fatal wreck near Williams’ home in Palm Beach Gardens surfaced in media accounts on Thursday, days before the 37-year-old athlete was planning to compete at Wimbledon, which begins in England on Monday (July 3).

An accident report filed by the investigating police officer said Williams was to blame for failing to yield the right of way to another motorist at a four-way intersection. 

It said the other driver, Linda Barson, 68, had just entered the intersection on a green light when she reported seeing Williams’ sport utility vehicle “cut across in front” of her and “was unable to avoid crashing into” it. 

Another motorist who saw the accident also told the police that Barson had a green light when Williams crossed in front of her. 

According to the report, Williams told the police that she drove into the intersection after exiting from another street on a green light, but stopped at the median break to wait for cross-traffic to clear, then proceeded without seeing Barson.

“The driver of (Williams’ car) is at fault for violating the right of way of (the other vehicle)”, the investigating officer concluded. 

Barson’s passenger, identified in the report as Jerome Barson, 78, was taken to a Florida trauma centre. He died 13 days later, according to the Palm Beach county medical examiner. 

The police report estimated Williams was travelling at about eight kilometres per hour at the time of the impact and was not distracted or suspected of any drug or alcohol use. 

Williams’ attorney, Malcolm Cunningham, did not directly address the accident report’s finding that his client was at fault, but said the tennis star was not issued “any citations or traffic violations”.

He expressed condolences to the man’s family and said he had no reason to believe the accident would affect Williams’ plans to play at Wimbledon. There was no indication in the report that she was injured.

“This is an unfortunate accident, and Venus expresses her deepest condolences to the family who lost a loved one,” Cunningham said. 

An attorney for the Barson family did not return a call seeking comment. 

Williams is currently ranked 11th in the world and seeded 10th at the Wimbledon tournament, which she has won five times.  She reached the final of the Australian Open in January, losing to her sister Serena, but has not competed since the French Open.

In Paris, she lost to Timea Bacsinszky in the fourth round on June 4, five days before the accident.