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Anne Heche Accident Analyzed by Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney

Anne-Heche-Fatal-Car-Accident-Los-AngelesThe recent accident and subsequent death of actress Anne Heche captivated the attention of many people in California and throughout the U.S. The horrific accident and Heche’s conduct leading up to the crash also raise questions of liability and how the victims might pursue claims to recover damages for their losses. Los Angeles personal injury attorney Steven M. Sweat analyzes the crash from a legal perspective below.

Anne Heche Accident

On Aug. 5, 2022, TMZ reported that Anne Heche had been involved in a hit-and-run crash before she fled and crashed into an occupied home nearby. The second collision ignited a fire that engulfed both her vehicle and the home she crashed into, and the fire destroyed the home. The resident was seated inside of her house at the time of the crash, and Heche’s vehicle stopped just a few feet from her. Thankfully, the resident escaped without injuries. Heche was taken to the hospital with burns and other injuries, and she slipped into a coma and subsequently died a few days later.

In the first crash, Heche collided with a garage door of an apartment complex. Several residents attempted to pull her out of her vehicle, but she put her car in reverse and sped away before colliding with the house shortly afterward.

While a blood test showed that Heche did not have any alcohol in her system at the time of the crash, the test could not be performed for hours, so it was uncertain whether or not she had been drinking. Several hours before the crash, Heche had posted that she was having a bad day and had drunk some wine and vodka as a result. The blood test did reveal the presence of both cocaine and fentanyl in her system, so she could have been charged for a DUI accident if she had survived. Video from a neighbor’s security camera also showed Heche’s vehicle speeding down the residential street just before the second crash at speeds estimated to be around 90 mph.

Potential Claims Following the Car Crash

When a negligent defendant causes a car accident, the victims can file lawsuits against them. In Anne Heche’s case, the victims could file lawsuits against her estate to pursue damages for their losses. The death of a negligent defendant does not extinguish the claims victims would otherwise have if the defendant had lived.

There are several victims in this case that could file claims, including the owner of the apartment complex to recover compensation for the damage caused to the garage, the owners of the home that Heche crashed into, and the resident who was renting the home at the time of the collision. The owner of the apartment complex and the couple who owned the home and rented it to the tenant could both file property damage claims against Heche’s estate to recover damages for their property losses.

The home’s resident could file a claim to recover compensation for her lost property and a potential injury claim against Heche’s estate. While she escaped without physical injuries, she could likely pursue a claim for psychological trauma caused by her experience of nearly being struck by Heche’s vehicle a witnessing Heche in the burning car.

Potential Sources of Recovery

There are a few potential sources of recovery for the victims in this case. The apartment complex owner and the owners of the home could file claims with their property insurance carriers. These claims could pay for the repairs to the apartment complex garage. Since the home suffered extensive damage in the fire, including structural damage, it will likely be deemed a total loss. In that case, the owners of the home could seek the replacement value of the home. The property insurers for both the apartment complex and the home would likely file claims against Heche’s estate for reimbursement of the amounts they have to pay out in claims. These claims will likely be covered by Heche’s auto insurance company. If she didn’t have sufficient auto insurance coverage limits, the balance could be paid by her estate.

The tenant who lost all of her belongings could file a claim with her renter’s insurance policy and Heche’s auto insurance company to recover her losses. She might also have a viable personal injury claim for emotional trauma. If the experience results in her needing to seek therapy or her missing work, she could also seek to recover damages for those expenses from Heche’s insurer and her estate.

Statutes Heche May Have Violated

Details from the news reports of Heche’s collision show that she likely violated multiple statutes, including the hit-and-run statute, the state’s general speed limit statute, and the impaired driving statute. Under Cal. Veh. Code 20002, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail to leave the scene of an accident that causes property damage but no physical injuries or death. If Heche had survived, she likely would have faced misdemeanor hit-and-run charges for leaving the scene of the initial crash.

California has a basic speed law found at Cal. Veh. Code 22350. Under this law, motorists must not drive at speeds greater than what the road, weather, and traffic conditions allow. Since Heche’s speed before her crash was estimated at 90 mph in a residential neighborhood, she likely would have been charged.

The third statute that Heche likely would have been charged with is Cal. Veh. Code 21352(f). This statute is California’s drugged driving law, and it forbids anyone from driving a vehicle when they are under the influence of drugs. Since Heche had both cocaine and fentanyl in her blood, the police likely would have charged her with drugged driving if she had survived.

Since Heche didn’t survive her injuries, she won’t be charged with any offenses for the hit-and-run collision or the car vs. house accident she caused. However, her apparent violation of these statutes could provide grounds for the tenant to pursue a negligence per se claim in addition to a negligence cause of action against Heche’s estate in a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for her losses.

Negligence and Negligence Per Se Claims

To prevail in a personal injury case against Heche’s estate, the tenant would need to prove the elements of negligence for a negligence cause of action. These elements include the following:

  • Heche owed the tenant a duty to drive with reasonable prudence and caution.
  • Heche violated the duty she owed the tenant.
  • Because of Heche’s actions in violating her duty of care, she caused the accident and the tenant’s injuries.
  • The tenant suffered actual damages as a result.

When someone like Heche violates the law and causes an accident, the victim can pursue a negligence per se cause of action. Someone is considered to be negligent per se when they break the law and cause a resulting accident and injuries. Plaintiffs don’t need to prove the defendant’s negligence in a negligence per se claim because the evidence of the law violation is considered to be sufficient.

Can the Tenant File a Personal Injury Claim When She Didn’t Suffer Physical Injuries?

Even though the tenant and her pets managed to escape the accident without physical injuries, she could still pursue a claim against Heche’s estate for her psychological injuries. Psychological harm and trauma are recognized injuries for which a claim could be filed. She would need to present evidence showing she suffered those types of losses by a preponderance of the evidence to recover compensation for them, however. For example, if the tenant was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or another mental health issue following her experience and had to attend therapy, she could present testimony from a mental health expert and bills from her counseling sessions to prove her losses. Some of the types of damages that the tenant might be able to recover include the following:

  • Cost of current and future psychological counseling caused by her experience
  • Value of the property she lost in the accident
  • Wage losses if she was forced to miss work because of the traumatic experience
  • Emotional trauma/psychological harm

It is also possible that the tenant might be able to pursue punitive damages because of the egregious nature of Heche’s actions. These are damages meant to punish defendants and deter them and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future and are payable in addition to any compensatory damages the victim receives.

Consult an Experienced Injury Lawyer

If you were injured in a car accident caused by someone else, you should talk to an experienced injury attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. We can review your case and help you understand your rights and the legal remedies that might be available. Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation at 866-966-5240.

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