VENUS WILLIAMS & “THE RIGHT OF WAY”
A lot of attention has been paid to Venus Williams recently, due to a car accident she was involved in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, early last month, where a passenger in the other vehicle died and the family has now sued Venus as a result, claiming she was at fault for the accident.
Recently, new video footage of the crash came out this weekend, and was posted by TMZ.com (http://www.tmz.com/2017/07/07/venus-williams-car-crash-video-surveillance/?adid=TMZ_Search_Results). Here is the video:
After reviewing the video, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department released a statement. The Associated Press detailed their findings:
"Williams legally entered an intersection but was cut off by another car, setting off a chain of events that seconds later resulted in a fatal crash with a third car, police say video released Friday shows.
"The video, taken by a security camera, shows Williams heading north as she stops her 2010 Toyota Sequoia SUV at a stoplight behind a white car as she exits her Palm Beach Gardens neighborhood shortly after 1 p.m. June 9.
"When the light turns green, the white car turns left onto a six-lane, heavily traveled boulevard, but Williams heads straight. A dark colored sedan turns left in front of her, causing her to stop.
"She then continues straight into the far, westbound lanes, where her SUV is struck in the passenger's side by a 2016 Hyundai sedan driven by Linda Barson."
Being a personal injury attorney who frequently deals with motor vehicle accidents, I asked my fellow attorney at our firm – certified civil trial attorney, Benjamin Goldstein, Esq., for his thoughts after reviewing the video.
He indicated that he felt the Hyundai was mostly at fault. After looking at the statements made by the parties, and the video itself, the video seems to support the statements made by Venus and her spokesperson, that she legally entered the intersection on a green light.
Similarly, it also supported the Hyundai driver’s assertion that she had a green light at the time she entered the intersection. However, the video also shows that Venus’ vehicle slows down, and appears to be caught in the middle of the intersection. Additionally, if you pay attention to the time stamp found on the video, it is only a matter of seconds from the time that Venus started up after she stopped before the impact occurred, casting doubt on the assertion that she was speeding.
Having said all of that, now to the reason the Hyundai was mostly at fault: drivers have to pay attention to the state of traffic around them, and act accordingly. In Mr. Goldstein’s opinion, the Hyundai driver’s assumption that Ms. Williams was stopped, and was going to remain stopped in the middle of the intersection as traffic moved around her vehicle, was an unreasonable one, and she should have waited a few seconds to allow Ms. Williams to clear the intersection before proceeding.
This becomes apparent when looking at the language found in the traffic codes.
While attorneys are quick to talk about who had the right of way, generally the law talks about who is yielding the right of way, rather than imparting that a particular driver has the right of way. This is intentional, because it allows for certain discretion when driving, which clearly is necessary with the number of vehicles traveling on the roadways today. A quick review of the pertinent law in New Jersey highlights this fact. N.J.S.A. 39:4-90 is titled “Right of way at intersections” and reads as follows:
"The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection. When 2 vehicles enter an intersection at the same time the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right of way to the driver of the vehicle on the right.
The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield to a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard, but the driver having so yielded, and having given a signal when and as required by law, may make the left turn; and other vehicles approaching the intersection from the opposite direction shall yield to the driver making the left turn." [This is for uncontrolled intersections, but makes the state of yielding the right of way clear].
You cannot ignore the state of traffic around you just because you have a green light; and yet, that is what the Hyundai did by moving into the intersection with Williams’ vehicle still within the intersection.
Finally, the state of New Jersey has a Model Civil Jury charge pertinent to this issue: 5.30J, which says the following: “The driver proceeding into (through) an intersection with a green light does not have an unqualified right to proceed. He/She is obligated to exercise reasonable care, which includes making reasonable observations for traffic traveling on an intersection street.” And further goes on to state: “Failure on the part of the driver favored with the green light to exercise such care while proceeding through the intersection is evidence to be considered by you in determining whether that driver was negligent in the operation of his/her motor vehicle.”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but as a general matter, in New Jersey at least, having a green light may not give you the green light to go if traffic does not permit.
If you have been injured and want to pursue a claim, contact the Law Offices of Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP at (856) 753-5131 for a free consultation.