The Los Angeles County District Attorney has announced that Caitlyn Jenner will not be charged with manslaughter for the death of Kim Howe. Howe was killed in February 2015 when Jenner rear-ended two other vehicles while driving her* Cadillac Escalade, which was hauling a trailer containing an off-road vehicle, on the Pacific Coast Highway. The chain reaction crash caused a Hummer to strike Howe’s vehicle head-on, causing her death.
*At the time of the accident, Caitlyn Jenner was still legally Bruce Jenner and identifying as a man, but we will refer to Jenner using she and her throughout this article.
After an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement officials concluded that Jenner may have not been speeding, but she was driving at unsafe speeds for the current road conditions at the time of the accident. By rear-ending two cars, Jenner pushed Howe’s car into oncoming traffic, causing the fatal crash that ended Howe’s life.
After reviewing the results of the investigation by law enforcement, the District Attorney decided not to pursue charges of vehicular manslaughter, a misdemeanor criminal charge. Jenner’s attorney commented on the DA’s decision stating, “a traffic accident, however devastating and heartbreaking when a life is lost, is not necessarily a criminal matter.”
What is Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter?
According to California criminal statutes, vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person causes the unintentional homicide of another person while operating a motor vehicle. Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a felony under California Penal Code §192(c)(1) or as a misdemeanor under CA P.C. §192(c)(2). In Jenner’s case, her actions would have to rise to the level of “gross negligence” for her to be charged with a felony.
In order to prove that Jenner was guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor would need to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Jenner was driving or operating a vehicle;
- While operating the vehicle, Jenner committed an act that could result in the death of another person;
- Jenner negligently committed the act; and,
- Jenner’s negligent conduct caused the death of another person.
If Jenner had been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and found guilty, she could have been confined to a county jail for one year and been placed on probation for three years. The court could also have ordered Jenner to pay restitution to Howe’s family. If the charge had been filed as a felony, a guilty verdict would result in two to six years in a California state prison.
Howe’s Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Caitlyn Jenner
Howe’s two stepchildren have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jenner, claiming Jenner should be required to pay damages for her “negligent” acts that caused the death of their stepmother. While vehicular manslaughter is a criminal offense punishable by confinement, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter that could result in a financial award. Jenner has responded to the complaint requesting the court dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit because Howe’s stepchildren do not have standing to file the suit due to the fact they were “not financially dependent upon the decedent for the necessities of life.”
California’s Wrongful Death Statute governs wrongful death claims. The statute provides the details of who may file a wrongful death claim and the elements that must be proven in order to prevail on that claim. Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the decedent’s date of death; therefore, time is critical.
If a loved one has been killed due to the negligence of another individual or entity, you need to contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options to hold that personal accountable for his or her actions. Call our office today.