A High Profile Multi-Car Accident Highlights the Difficulty Assigning Liability
On February 7, 2015, a fatal accident involving four cars occurred in Malibu, California. While multi-car accidents are alarmingly common, this particular accident drew a lot of attention at the time due to one of the involved drivers: Caitlyn (then known as Bruce) Jenner.
What We Have Learned Since the Incident
Ms. Jenner’s Cadillac Escalade (which was towing an ATV at the time) struck a Lexus sedan driven by a woman named Kim Howe. A second earlier, that Lexus had rear-ended a Toyota Prius that was ahead of it. Jenner’s rear-ending of the Lexus caused Howe to be pushed into oncoming traffic, whereupon she was fatally struck by an oncoming Hummer SUV.
The initial investigation into the collision proved that Jenner was going too fast for the road conditions (the streets were wet from a heavy rain), and may have been able to prevent the fatality if she could have put her brakes on earlier. However, due to the fact that the collision involved multi-impact points (Howe struck the Prius, Jenner struck Howe, and the Hummer struck Howe), liability over who was actually responsible for the accident was somewhat confused.
In September 2015, it was decided that although Jenner had been driving recklessly for conditions, it couldn't be proven that her driving directly resulted in the fatal collision. As such, she was not charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. However, even though she wasn’t charged, her involvement with the collision has since created fodder for a host of issues ranging from jokes (remember the Golden Globes?) to lawsuits, to a change in how we perceive liability in multi-car accidents.
In every state, drivers are required to follow cars at a safe distance that allows for stopping. In rear-end accidents, typically the trailing driver is found at fault as he should have had enough stopping distance to avoid a collision. However, multi-car collisions aren’t that straightforward; it can be very challenging to limit liability and negligence to just one person. A team of investigators and attorneys are needed to thoroughly analyze the crash data and determine who—if anyone—singlehandedly caused the crash.
In the case of the Jenner collision, there are several conjectures that could explain how the accident occurred and who was at fault:
- Front car liability. Perhaps the Prius irresponsibly slammed on the brakes without warning. Perhaps the brake lights were inoperable. Since Howe had no warning of the stop, she can not be held responsible for the initial collision. Jenner can’t be held responsible for hitting Howe, as she too wouldn’t have had time to slam on her brakes.
- Middle car liability. We’ve already stated that in most rear-end collisions the trailing car is found to be liable. Because California, like Texas, follows the comparative negligence law, liability would ordinarily be split between Howe and Jenner as they should have both had the time (and distance) to stop before a collision occurred.
- Multiple car liability. Perhaps all cars were responsible as a result of speeding and lack of attention. If the Prius (front car) was acting erratically, Howe and Jenner (the middle and back cars) were speeding or following too closely, and the Hummer (oncoming traffic) was going too fast, everyone involved could be considered partially liable for the outcome of the accident.
- No liability. In some cases, liability can’t be determined because of the circumstances. The death of Mrs. Howe eliminates information on what may have caused her to rear-end the Prius, and the poor weather could be considered the contributing factor. Sometimes accidents don’t have anyone at fault: even though everyone exercised reasonable judgment in the circumstances, tragedy still happened.
Protecting Yourself From Confused Liability
So what does this muddle over liability mean for you? It means that, after a collision, you need a dependable attorney to investigate and discover who truly is responsible for your injuries. With over 35 years’ worth of experience in car accident injury claims, we’re not only prepared to fight for you, we’re eager to fight for you.
Put our contact information in your phone right now to avoid losing any time after an accident. The name is Steve Lee and the number is 713-921-4171. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use this information…but if you do, you’ll be prepared to get the right guidance and help as quickly as possible.
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