Will Halberstam’s Widow Sue UC Berkeley for Negligence?

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Prominent speakers and performers from Gay Talese to Paul Simon will eulogize David Halberstam at a Riverside Church memorial service tomorrow afternoon, but across the country at the University of California, Berkeley, the school’s lawyers are bracing for a lawsuit from Halberstam’s family, which has already asked for $20 million in damages. The Pulitzer Prize–winning author was killed in April in a car accident that happened while a Berkeley journalism student was driving Halberstam, who had spoken at the university, to a nearby interview. “We’re examining the situation more closely, in the anticipation they may take some action,” Mike Smith, a lawyer for the school, told New York. “It’s a very tricky situation, and a delicate one.”

Since the accident, lawyers have worked to reach a quiet settlement deal with the reporter’s widow, Jean Halberstam, who has accused the graduate student driving her husband at the time of his death of negligent conduct. The student had a history of driving accidents, according to news reports, and lawyers for the Halberstam family believe the school should be held accountable for providing him as a driver for Halberstam, who needed a ride to interview a source for his next book. Lawyers for the school, which had invited Halberstam to lecture journalism students, have argued that they don’t bear any responsibility for his death, because he arranged the ride on his own terms, to an engagement that had nothing to do with the school. “Our view is basically that he personally enlisted the driver to help him,” said Smith. “That doesn’t make the university responsible for the driver’s conduct.” Martin Garbus, attorney for the Halberstam estate, declined to comment. —Geoffrey Gray