Caitlyn Jenner

Legal Blog: ‘I Am Cait’ Star Caitlyn Jenner’s New Reality Show Debuts Amid Legal Drama

Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.

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Tonight marks the start of Caitlyn Jenner’s reality TV journey to tell a story free from lies with her new series, I Am Cait. “I just hope I get it right,” says Jenner in the E! docuseries. “Bruce always had to tell a lie,” Jenner, 65, recalled in July’s Vanity Fair. “Caitlyn doesn’t have any secrets.”

The transgender reality TV star, 65, has been in the spotlight since first revealing in an interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that she was transitioning to be female. 

Reality TV has always reflected the culture of a time.  Even if there are remnants of Keeping Up With the Kardashians branding or frivolous fun savoring a closet full of Tom Ford and Diane von Furstenberg clothes, it seems plausible the Bunim/Murray-produced eight-episode series will serve as an educational tool. “I don’t want people dying over this,” explains Jenner. “I feel a tremendous responsibility here because I have a voice and there are so many who don’t have a voice.”

Unscripted series like ‘I Am Cait’ and ‘I Am Jazz’ provide understanding and information with regard to the transgender community. Reality TV can be extremely inspirational and motivational in a way that isn’t self-righteous, inauthentic or preachy.

During this time of transformation for Caitlyn Jenner, one horrible incident is casting a dark shadow over the I Am Cait series. Jenner faces a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by the adult stepchildren of Kim Howe, who was killed on February 7 as a result of a car accident involving Caitlyn, who was at the time, Bruce. They are seeking unspecified damages and the cost of the suit.  Howe’s stepchildren claim Jenner was “careless, reckless and negligent.” In addition to the single fatality, five children and two adults were hospitalized with injuries from the accident, authorities said.

At the time of the crash, authorities reported that Kim Howe’s Lexus had rear-ended Jessica Steindorff’s Prius when it slowed down or suddenly stopped. Jenner’s Cadillac Escalade, which was towing a trailer with an all-terrain vehicle on it, then rear-ended Howe’s car, thrusting it into oncoming traffic. A black Hummer H2 struck Howe’s Lexus after it was pushed into traffic.  The driver of the white Lexus, 69-year-old Kim Howe of Calabasas, California, died at the scene. 

Caitlyn Jenner car crash

Jessica Steindorff, a talent manager who works in Hollywood, recently said she wants the recipient of the 2015 Arthur Ashe Courage Award to “do the right thing and take responsibility for her actions.”  Steindorff expressed her anger that Jenner’s gender transition has garnered more press than the fatal collision.  “I find it difficult to understand how the culture we live in can honor a person who is responsible for taking a life and injuring several others with both an award and a reality show,” she said.

Jenner has filed documents asking the court to throw out the wrongful death case. Jenner’s attorneys allege that Howe’s stepchildren are not entitled to any damages because they are financially independent.  Reportedly, the adult stepchildren had little contact with Howe at the time of her death and didn’t depend on her to provide or pay for essential things such as food, shelter, clothing or medical treatment.  Are Howe’s family opportunists or do they have a case?  

READ: Bruce Jenner Asks Judge to Throw Out Wrongful Death Lawsuit After Malibu Car Crash

Individuals can file a wrongful death claim if there is proof they were financially dependent upon the deceased person at the time of death.

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The idea behind a wrongful death lawsuit is that the wrongful death, in addition to injuring the deceased, also injured people who depended upon the deceased for financial or emotional support.  According to the relevant civil codes, persons who were financially dependent on the deceased at the time of his or her death are permitted to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death applies to a death that results from negligence, recklessness or a wrongful act. 

A wrongful death claim seeks damages from the defendant for such things as medical and funeral expenses, future earnings, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering. However, punitive damages are not recoverable under the wrongful death statute.

A second lawsuit was filed against Caitlyn Jenner in connection with the fatal accident on California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Jessica Steindorff filed a personal injury suit in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Steindorff is claiming lost wages and more than $25,000 in damages. She was driving a 2010 Toyota Prius that was part of a chain-reaction crash in Malibu on February 7. Her lawsuit claims that Jenner operated a vehicle “negligently, carelessly, recklessly and wantonly” and caused the collision. It refers to Jenner as “Bruce Jenner a/k/a Caitlyn Jenner.”

Negligence is either the failure to do something that an ordinarily prudent person would do under given circumstances or the doing of something that an ordinarily prudent person would not do under those circumstances. A jury will be instructed to compare the facts, testimony, and documentary evidence with the following elements before reaching a verdict on Steindorff’s negligence claim:

Duty: A person has a duty to use care in performing any task where a party may be injured. In California, a person driving a car has a duty to everyone on the road. Obeying posted speed limits and using turn signals are examples of a defendant’s duty.

Breach of Duty: Determining whether a breach occurred is generally a factual question for the trier of fact, i.e., the jury.  The jury will compare the conduct of the defendant with what a reasonable person would have done in a similar situation.  If a reasonable person would have acted differently, the trier of fact will likely find that the defendant breached this legal duty. If an automobile driver falls asleep behind the wheel, speeds, or follows a car too closely and causes a car accident, breach is generally established.

Causation:  After the first two elements have been proven, the next element to be established is causation. Causation means that the breach of the duty by defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  In California, juries will look to see whether Jenner’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm to the plaintiff.  Substantial factor is defined as being whether a reasonable person would consider the incident that occurred to have contributed to the harm suffered by a plaintiff; it must be more than a remote or trivial factor, and it does not have to be the only cause of the harm. The simple test used to determine whether a particular act or omission that causes a personal injury is substantial is known as the “but for” test.  Under this test, you ask, but for the defendant’s act (or omission), would the victim have been injured? If the answer is yes, then the act was a substantial factor in the injury.

Damages:  Finally, plaintiff must be able to show that he or she was actually harmed or injured.  These damages can be the result of direct costs, such as medical bills and lost income or they can be indirect costs such as the pain and suffering endured by the plaintiff as a result of the injuries sustained. 

California distributes compensation for injuries based on its pure comparative negligence scheme. A plaintiff will be compensated based on his or her total percentage of fault. Even if plaintiff is 97% at fault, he or she will still be compensated for the 3% that wasn’t his or her fault.  Other jurisdictions require the plaintiff to be no more than 50 percent at fault in order to recover any damages.

Jenner was not intoxicated or texting during the accident, claim reports.  She will not face felony charges, noted another report. LA County Sheriff’s investigators viewed a video of Jenner’s SUV hitting Howe’s Lexus and determined the accident to be ordinary negligence.

“My heartfelt and deepest sympathies go out to the family and loved ones, and to all of those who were involved or injured in this terrible accident,” Jenner said. “It is a devastating tragedy and I cannot pretend to imagine what this family is going through at this time.  I am praying for them. I will continue to cooperate in every way possible.”

“I Am Cait” premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on E!. Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know what you think about the series “I Am Cait” and whether Jenner will suffer legal consequences as a result of the February 7 accident.

 

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