Ex-Net Could Face Suits ‘Accident’ Remark Seals Jayson’s Fate [2002-02-24]

Austin Fenner [New York Daily News]


As former Nets star Jayson Williams awaits likely criminal charges from prosecutors in the death of his limo driver, liability attorneys predicted his lawyer’s proclamation that the shooting was an accident dooms his chances in a civil case.

“You already have civil liability, because he said it was an accident,” said lawyer Benedict Morelli, seen on Fox TV’s “Power of Attorney.”

“He’s about as negligent as the day is long. The estate of the deceased chauffeur would sue Williams for wrongful death. It seems to be a good case,” said Morelli, who’s handled many prominent – and lucrative – discrimination cases.

New Jersey authorities ruled last week that the death of Costas (Gus) Christofi, 55, was suspicious.

Christofi was killed by a shotgun blast while at the sprawling Alexandria Township, N.J., estate owned by Williams, now an NBC sportscaster.

Williams’ attorney, Joe Hayden, has insisted the death “was an accident, pure and simple.”

Published reports have said Williams, 34, accidentally shot Christofi as he twirled a shotgun while giving friends a tour of his 40-room mansion earlier this month.

Finger on the trigger

Lawyer Robert Sullivan said if Williams fired the gun, he’s liable.

“If it is an accidental shooting, he’s covered under his homeowner’s insurance. If it is an intentional shooting, there is no coverage. It would be an O.J. Simpson-type scenario. They could sue him for civil damages, but they would have to get it from his pocket,” Sullivan said.

If Williams was found guilty of negligence, damages would largely depend on the earnings of Christofi, who was not married.

But punitive damages could drain Williams’ fortune.

Lawyers said courts would likely go along with $1.5 million to $5 million in damages.

‘Reckless conduct’

Peter De Filippis, who once handled a lawsuit against Sean (Puffy) Combs, concurred.

“Assuming he was the only one handling the gun, even if it was accidentally discharged, fooling around and engaging in horseplay with other people around can be construed by a jury as reckless conduct,” De Filippis said.

“It gives the jury a chance to send a message to society that this type of conduct has to be discouraged.”