BY JANE MUSGRAVE
PALM BEACH POST/TNS
WEST PALM BEACH – A Florida family who blamed tennis great Venus Williams for a fatal 2017 crash is now blaming government agencies for their loved one’s death.
Had Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach County, the Florida Department of Transportation and others followed an approved road plan, the crash that claimed the life of 78-year-old Jerome Barson could have been averted, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
The lawsuit comes six months after the Barsons settled a lawsuit they filed against Williams for an undisclosed amount. Since then, the longtime Palm Beach Gardens resident has sold her home in BallenIsles for $2.3 million, records show.
In their latest legal salvo, the Barsons are taking aim at various hazards at the intersection of Northlake Boulevard and Steeplechase Drive, where the crash occurred.
Had traffic lights been timed correctly, had the road been marked properly and had signs been in place, Williams’ SUV wouldn’t have collided with a car driven by Barson’s wife, Linda, according to the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
Jerome Barson never recovered from his injuries and died two weeks later on his wife’s birthday.
The various government agencies, along with Steeplechase officials, didn’t implement plans that had been devised to keep motorists safe, wrote attorney Neil Anthony, who is representing the Barsons.
HOW CRASH HAPPENED
Instead Williams, who he identified identified as “Steeplechase guest,” got stuck in the middle of the intersection as she tried to cross the busy road to return to her home in BallenIsles, which she once shared with her equally famous tennis champion sister, Serena.
Because there were no road markings or signs, Williams got in the left-hand turn lane even though she wanted go straight on Steeplechase Drive, which turns into BallenIsles Drive on the northside of Northlake, Anthony wrote.
When a car turned left in front of her, Williams stopped in the middle of the four-lane road, he wrote. Not realizing the light on Northlake had turned green, Williams drove forward.
That’s when her SUV was T-boned by the car driven by Linda Barson.
Because the other car cut Williams’ off, Gardens police said Williams, who owns seven Grand Slam titles, didn’t cause the crash.
While Anthony’s firm once balked at the findings of the police investigation, he now says negligence by government agencies caused the fatal chain of events.
Officials from the various agencies declined to address the allegations, saying it is their policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Anthony didn’t respond to an email for comment about why he waited so long to file the suit.
By law, government agencies have to be given six months notice before a lawsuit can be filed.
There is also a $200,000 limit on how much each of the government agencies could be forced to pay for wrongdoing. While it is unlikely the Steeplechase Property Owners Association is protected by the state cap, Anthony acknowledged the others he is suing would be.
That means that if a future jury orders any of the agencies to pay the Barsons more than $200,000, they would have to ask the Florida Legislature to pass a special bill, lifting the cap.