Venus Williams' Fatal Accident: The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Liability

July 10, 2017

On June 9th, Venus Williams was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of 79-year-old Jerome Barson.  Most outlets reporting on the accident were quick to report that Venus Williams was "at fault" in the accident. 

 

The facts as I generally understand them are that Ms. Williams entered an intersection under a green light.  Due to traffic, she was unable to clear the intersection and was forced to stop in the middle of the intersection.  By the time traffic had moved and she could clear the intersection her direction of travel no longer had a green light. 

 

She continued through the intersection as Mr. Barson, riding as a passenger, came through the green light perpendicular to Ms. Williams and collided with her car resulting in his death.

 

At the time this article was written, Venus Williams had not yet been charged with a crime.  In Virginia, a driver may not enter an intersection when a red light is displayed "...but traffic which has already entered the intersection shall continue to move until the intersection has been cleared."

 

The Virginia Code allows people to clear an intersection without facing criminal penalties.  In this situation, I believe the Florida Code is similar and that is the reason that Venus Williams has not been charged with a crime. 

 

The standard of proof required to be found criminally liable for an act is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  That means no reasonable person could view the outcome any other way.  

 

However, the standard of proof to be found civilly liable, meaning a person could sue for money damages, is not quite as high.  A preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not, is all that is needed to be found civilly liable.  

 

The Barson family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Venus Williams and will have to meet the standard of proof required for civil liability in order to win in a court of law.  

 

Even if Venus Williams is never charged with a crime the Barson family could still sue and win if they are able to prove that Ms. Williams is guilty by a preponderance of the evidence. 

 

That standard will only have to be met if the case ever gets to a courtroom.  Many civil cases often reach a settlement before ever going to trial.  Being such a high profile case, I would imagine that this case would likely end the same way. 

 

 

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