Legal Blog: Caitlyn Jenner Sued By Grammy-Nominated Composer

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Kim Kardashian and Kanye West welcomed a new son to their family on December 5.  As the reality star of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and her musician husband celebrate the birth of their new arrival, Kim’s stepparent Caitlyn Jenner probably spent the better part of the weekend reviewing a new lawsuit filed against her. 

The legal fallout from the February 7 highway pileup on the Pacific Coast Highway still trails the “I Am Cait” star as Peter Wolf-Millesi and his family, who suffered serious injuries in the traffic collision earlier this year, filed a complaint on December 4 for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Wolf-Millesi family of Malibu sued Jenner in Los Angeles Superior Court.  The Wolf-Millesi clan – driving a Hummer – was allegedly hit head-on by a Lexus (Kim Howe’s vehicle) that was struck from behind by Jenner’s Cadillac Escalade, which forced the vehicle into their lane of traffic.

If you are keeping score, Caitlyn Jenner faces two other lawsuits stemming from the crash: One is a wrongful death suit from Kim Howe’s two adult stepchildren; the other is from Jessica Steindorff, the driver of the vehicle that Jenner’s SUV rear-ended after hitting Howe’s car. 

What makes the Wolf-Millesi suit different from the other two? Peter Wolf-Millesi is a multi-Grammy-nominated composer, pianist, arranger and songwriter whose credits include Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City,” Patti Labelle’s “On My Own” and Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking.” He claims that nerve damage in his wrist and hands from the collision has left him “disabled from work.”

Peter Wolf-Millesi is a high-profile individual with tremendous influence and power. He has the ability to see this case through by hiring the most distinguished legal counsel and respected scientific experts. Specialists trained in the field of physics, engineering and science perform various expert witness and consultation functions in this type of case with multiple vehicles involved, and the cost is astronomical. 

Peter Wolf-Millesi_Jenner car crash suitPeter Wolf-Millesi (L)

Experts often require some kind of retainer.  Retainers can be very expensive with an estimated average retainer of about $5,000.  Hourly fees for document review, preparation, depositions and trials have to be paid as do travel costs. Granted, under contingency fee agreements, an attorney may advance these costs but the client will pay expert witness fees out of any settlement or judgment.

According to the lawsuit, four members of the Wolf-Millesi family, including Peter and his wife Lea’s two minor children, Gaetano and Nino, and another occupant of their vehicle (Peter’s mother-in-law Elga Maurer) sustained serious injuries in the crash. 

Peter’s one-month old son was unresponsive after the accident, according to the lawsuit. Gaetano supposedly had to be transferred to UCLA’s emergency room for treatment.

Caitlyn Jenner car crash lawsuit

Meanwhile, Peter’s wife Lea Wolf-Millesi sustained blunt-force injuries and requires ongoing orthopedic treatment, the suit filed by Panish Shea & Boyle LLP on behalf of the family alleges.

Peter’s mother-in-law, Elga Maurer, contends that the horrific Pacific Coast Highway crash — which killed the 69-year-old Lexus driver, Kim Howe — caused them “significant personal injuries and emotional distress.”  Maurer apparently suffered a debilitating “severe cervical fracture” (broken neck) from the accident that left her permanently disabled.

Sheriff’s investigators determined Jenner was traveling at an unsafe speed for the traffic conditions yet prosecutors declined to file a vehicular manslaughter charge against the 66-year-old. Los Angeles County prosecutors announced in September that the Olympic gold medalist would not face criminal charges.  Why do you think that is, especially after investigators submitted the case to the District Attorney’s office and recommended a manslaughter charge? Caitlyn Jenner told detectives she was being followed by paparazzi at the time of the crash. Did Caitlyn’s celebrity have an impact on the criminal case and will it influence the outcome of the civil suits?

Wolf-Millesi is suing for an unspecified amount in damages, but includes demands for general damages, past and future medical bills as well as future loss of earnings. The law of negligence does allow accident victims to recover damages for their secondary losses proximately flowing from a physical injury, including lost earnings and earning power, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.  Jenner has 30 days to file a written response to the suit.

The elements of a cause of action for negligence are: (1) a duty to use ordinary care; (2) breach of that duty; (3) a proximate causal connection between the negligent conduct and the resulting injury and (4) damages. 

All negligence rules require individuals to meet a certain legal standards of care. This standard requires individuals to take as much precaution as would a reasonable person under the same circumstances. A person who fails to meet the legal standard is said to be at fault in the event of an accident.   

Before negligence law assigns responsibility to a defendant for a plaintiff’s harm, it demands that the plaintiff establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the negligence and the harm. People every day are injured in car collisions. While many such occurrences are attributable to the negligence of one or more persons, many others are not. The basic concept of negligence is centered on the principle that every individual should exercise a minimum degree of ordinary care so as not to cause injury to others.

Contributory negligence often comes into play in motor vehicle accidents, and it allows a defendant to reduce his or her liability and consequently, the amount of damages. In California, a plaintiff’s contributory negligence used to be a complete bar to recovery against a defendant whose negligent conduct would have otherwise made him or her liable to the plaintiff for the harm the plaintiff sustained.  Today California assesses liability in proportion to fault. Thus, the damages awarded must be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the plaintiff. Therefore, Caitlyn could attempt to reduce her liability by arguing that Peter Wolf-Millesi was negligent in failing to retain his own duty to act as a reasonably prudent person would. The plaintiff’s negligence is compared to the combined negligence of all tortfeasors, whether or not joined as parties, to determine the amount of the reduction.

Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know what you think about this latest legal battle lodged against Caitlyn Jenner


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