In cases of “wrongful death,” we know nothing can replace the person you have lost through someone’s negligence. But the law can help you by easing financial and legal burdens through a wrongful death lawsuit.
In keeping with this featured topic, there is a wrongful death lawsuit currently in the news. Here at Metts Legal, we strategically follow late-breaking headline news court cases. This news story allows us to bring you information on some basic points of Florida law about wrongful death suits.
So, let’s take a look at the newest developments in the story of Linda Barson’s wrongful death lawsuit against tennis star Venus Williams. As soon as the suit was publicized, the court of public opinion, the Internet went wild. Speculation abounded. You will probably recall, we announced the basics of the case in our previous blog article. We hope you will read or review it before continuing to read this blog.
Wrongful Death at a Florida Intersection: Conflicting Stories
Linda Barson brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Venus Williams due to the death of her husband, Jerome Barson. He died in a car accident. And the other driver was famed tennis athlete, Venus Williams.
At the scene, the police report seemed to indicate Williams failed to yield the right of way. However, she was not ticketed for the incident. Thus, the court of public opinion stormed and flooded the Internet. (You will see how this impression changes.)
On the one hand, there is the Barson side of the story, “Investigators say, witnesses and Linda Barson, who was driving, told them Williams’ 2010 Toyota Sequoia SUV crossed in front of the Barsons’ 2016 Hyundai Accent after the couple’s light turned green. The Accent smashed into the side of the Sequoia.” Her husband, Jerome Barson, died two weeks later of injuries received. The court of public opinion tweeted, posted and raged. Some took sides.
On the other hand, there is Williams’ side of the story. The athlete “told investigators her light was green when she entered the six-lane intersection.” She added, “she got stopped midpoint by traffic and didn’t see the Barsons’ car before she crossed their lane.”
Essentially, the challenge was determining who was at the right place at the right time in that deadly intersection.
Wrongful Death and the Rights of the Accused
The next turn of events brought an injunction from the court. The injunction disallowed Barson estate’s lawyers from inspecting the Williams car. The car was equipped with a video recorder. “The concern is that the planned download by Barson attorney Michael Steinger could fail and the data would be lost, argued attorney Kevin Yombor of Fort Lauderdale. He asked for the judge to approve a joint inspection carried out by experts for both sides.”
“The on-board data of both vehicles will be critical evidence,” Yombor wrote. “The actions taken by Plaintiff should not occur until … a procedure is in place to ensure that the data of each vehicle is properly collected.”
The court granted the injunction in favor of the joint inspection and proper collection of evidence. This action was taken in the presence of both parties involved and their experts. To put it simply, here’s the point of law: Both sides are entitled to have equal “discovery” of the evidence in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful Death Surveillance Video Appears to Clear Williams—or Does It?
On July 7th, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department investigation released a new statement. Included was a neighborhood gate surveillance video, opposing the view of the initial officer on the scene. In their investigative report, they stated Venus Williams “lawfully entered the intersection on a circular green traffic signal and attempted to travel north through the intersection to Ballenisles Drive.”
The new police report stated also that Williams came to a stop as she traveled through the intersection “to avoid a collision” when a car going in the opposite direction made a left turn in front of her.” She then continued north, in accordance with state law, before another car collided with her vehicle,” police said.
Wrongful Death Surveillance Video Subject to Interpretation
Williams’ lawyer stated, “As the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department points out, once Ms. Williams entered the intersection lawfully, she had the right to proceed through the intersection. And other vehicles including those with a red light changing to green were obligated to yield the right-of-way to Ms. Williams.”
However, the picture looked different from the Barson point of view. After watching the same surveillance video, a lawyer for the family issued this statement: “The video released by the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department continues to support the fact that Ms. Williams remained in the intersection at a red light, violating the Barsons’ right of way.”
So, with only some of the evidence reported, and conflicting interpretations of it, the public must wait in suspense for the process of the lawsuit to continue.
The high profile, media and internet coverage of this case has sparked an interest in the Florida laws that cover wrongful death. So, now that we have learned about the current news story, let’s examine some points of Florida Law.
Wrongful Death: By Florida Law, Who Can Sue for a Wrongful Death?
This is the first point to learn in cases of wrongful death; who can sue? In Florida, only the law can qualify you to actually bring such a suit. State law mandates requirements for your relationship to the decedent in order to collect damages. Actually, two different categories of claimants can bring a suit for damages under the auspices of Florida Courts:
Category One: “The Estate”
The “estate” of the person who dies through the negligence of another person can sue for wrongful death. This action uses a designated “personal representative of the estate.” He or she will bring the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of any and all the beneficiaries. In this category, there are limited damages available.
Category Two: “The Survivors”
Category Two is only for Survivors. Those survivors are listed below and defined by Law. The second category of potential claimants also qualifies to press a wrongful death suit through a personal representative. Furthermore, the personal representative must include all the survivors.
Of course, survivors might be part of the decedent’s estate. However, in this category, they can claim higher damage amounts. Then they can attain higher settlements. Likewise, they can be awarded different amounts. The amount awarded may depend on their relationship to the decedent.
Metts Legal cautions you to keep in mind that for wrongful death suit, “Survivors” in the eyes of Florida law include:
1. The decedent’s spouse- When a husband or wife dies due to someone’s negligence, the spouse emotional trauma and lost companionship are the heart of a spouse’s claim, as you might imagin.
2. The decedent’s children. It speaks well for Florida justice that minor children and children under the age of 25, are entitled to higher damages.
3. The decedent’s blood relatives or adopted siblings who were partially dependent on the decedent for support or services.
Please return to Metts Legal Blog next week for some more fascinating Florida points of law. These will include damages each of the two above categories are allowed to claim. And until then, Metts Legal hopes you will remember this thought: Lawsuits are tried and decided by real courts, not the court of public opinion. And thankfully, not by the public on the Internet.