A big heavy SUV, a Cadillac Escalade, more massive and unwieldy still because it was towing a trailer, smashed into the car ahead. The Escalade and its train might have kept a safe interval between it and the car in its front but it was not able to brake in time to avoid the collision. As often happens in such cases, the Escalade’s driver suffered no injuries as a result of the collision. Kim Howe, the driver of the stricken car, was not so lucky. She is dead, pronounced so at the scene of the accident.
"Perhaps she did have just an instant of realization. Horror."
When her car was hit, Kim had no time to react. There was nothing at all that she could do. Perhaps she did have just an instant of realization. Horror. The force of the rear end collision pushed Kim’s car right into the lane of oncoming traffic on California’s scenic and fast moving Pacific Coast Highway. Kim’s car suffered a crushing head-on collision with a big Humvee travelling at high speed in the opposite direction. This second crash crushed the front end of Kim’s passenger car as it crushed the life out of Kim.
It was recently reported that Caitlyn Jenner, who was still Bruce Jenner at the time of the accident, will not be charged with manslaughter for rear-ending Kim Howe’s car. Nonetheless, Jenner has been sued for negligently causing Howe’s death. The amount of evidence to prove Jenner’s liability in this “wrongful death” case is less than that needed to prove a crime and the issues are somewhat easier for Kim Howe’s heirs than they were for the Los Angeles District Attorney who investigated Jenner for criminal manslaughter. Jenner’s insurance company is, no doubt, handling the lawsuit. Perhaps Jenner has high enough insurance coverage limits for the value that will put on Kim Howe’s life. Perhaps not. If Jenner does not have high enough insurance limits, well, then, some of the proceeds from Jenner’s television show may end up in the hands of Kim Howe’s family.
"One thing is for sure and that is that Jenner was driving too fast to stop the big heavy Escalade before it rear ended Kim Howe's much less massive car."
The point of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s investigation was to determine if it could be proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jenner violated the vehicle code and that this violation was the cause of Kim Howe’s death. It seems that the focus was on California’s basic speed law. This law says that, regardless of the posted speed limit, no driver should drive faster than is safe given the conditions. One thing is for sure and that is that Jenner was driving too fast to stop the big heavy Escalade before it rear ended Kim Howe’s much less massive car. This, apparently, was not enough for the District Attorney to file manslaughter charges.
The question to be determined in the civil lawsuit is a bit different from the question in the criminal investigation. The standard of proof is different as well. Kim’s family must only prove that Jenner was negligent and this proof need not be “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If a preponderance of the evidence shows that Jenner was not reasonably prudent in controlling the Escalade and that this caused Kim’s death, Jenner is liable and must pay damages. How much? Well, what is the value of a life? What was the value of Kim’s life?
"If the case is settled, it is likely that we will never know what value was placed on Kim Howe's life."
It is likely that we will hear reported sometime in the future that the civil case against Jenner has been settled. I write this with some confidence because civil cases, in which there is any arguable merit in the claim, are usually settled without a trial. If the case is settled, it is likely that we will never know what value was placed on Kim Howe’s life. It is likely that this value will be kept confidential. If Kim’s family and Jenner’s insurer and Jenner are unable to settle the case, we will certainly hear the blow by blow, day after day in newspapers, on television, in social media and on the radio. This “wall to wall” coverage will be due to Jenner’s celebrity, the monetary value of which will ironically likely increase as the value of Kim Howe’s life is determined by a California jury.
What is a life worth? How does the justice system place a value on a broken bone, on a compressed or severed spinal cord, on a traumatically injured brain or on the myriad other injuries that are inflicted on innocent people each and every day? These losses and injuries are not exactly equitable to dollars. The simple solution at the McGill Law Office is that, for every personal injury client whom we represent, our aim is to obtain the maximum possible monetary recovery and nothing less.
Content prepared by Edmond McGill. © Edmond McGill, 2015
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