NEW ORLEANS – In a bizarre turn of events, the convicted killer of New Orleans Saints football player Will Smith has filed a lawsuit against Smith’s widow, who he wounded with gunfire, seeking damages for lost property, medical injuries, lost wages, mental anguish and emotional distress.
The lawsuit was filed on April 7, almost a year after the murder.
Attorney Peter Russell told the Louisiana Record the case is “high profile” and is being followed by many people statewide because of the fame of the victim. He said the incident initially came about because of road rage.
“Smith allegedly perpetuated it first when he bumped Hayes’ car and drove off,” Russell said.
On April 9, 2016, Will Smith was driving a Mercedes SUV at Sophie Wright Place and Felicity Street in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans when he bumped into a Hummer H2 vehicle driven by Cardell Hayes. Hayes chased Smith, who apparently believed no damage had been done, to get him to stop.
Smith’s car came to a sudden stop because of traffic in the Garden District. Hayes then crashed into the back of Smith's car, sending it plowing into another vehicle. Smith and Hayes exited their vehicles and exchanged heated words. Hayes pulled out a gun and shot Smith to death.
Smith's wife Racquel Smith was wounded in the gunfire.
Rebecca Dooley, who was also injured in the crash, was a passenger in the back of Smith’s vehicle. She filed a lawsuit on March 23, just over a week before the one-year anniversary of the murder. She is alleging “mental anguish” and physical injuries and is seeking compensation from Hayes and his insurance carrier.
Hayes’ suit includes Richard Hernandez, Dooley’s husband, who was also a passenger in Smith's vehicle. Hayes alleged that he acted in self-defense in shooting Smith after Hernandez and Smith had assaulted him.
Under Louisiana state law, Dooley had one year to file a complaint. Dooley’s attorney Francis Olivier said her client did not file sooner because they were in discussions with an insurance company to work out a settlement.
“With a claim you try to work things out first rather than spend a lot of money,” Olivier said.
Hayes was convicted in December of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, avoiding a more serious charge of second-degree murder when prosecutors failed to prove to a jury that Hayes had deliberately rammed Smith’s vehicle. Hayes faces up to 60 years in prison.
Dooley’s lawsuit alleges that Hayes’ negligence led to the crash and she suffered injuries in her neck and back.
“Louisiana is not a no-fault state,” Olivier said. “In a case like this, the person responsible who causes the injury, he and his insurance company have to pay.”
Hayes was insured by USAA at the time of the accident.
The Dooley civil suit will likely not go to trial, Olivier said, but will likely be settled by attorneys out of court who agree on compensation amounts.
Racquel Smith also is suing Hayes and his insurance company for damages.
In addition, another man involved in the accident, Dooley’s brother Jonathan Whipple, filed suit. Whipple’s car was hit from behind by Smith’s after Smith was struck by Hayes. Whipple named Hayes, Racquel Smith and both of their auto insurance companies as defendants.