Multi-Vehicle Fatal Collision
A 37-year-old traveling nurse, Nicole Linton had worked in multiple states, including Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas before taking a position in California at the Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center. She had originally graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in marketing before changing career paths and becoming a nurse. Linton was licensed as a nurse in California in 2021 and had been working in the state for a year at the time of her collision.
On Aug. 4, 2022, Linton was driving a Mercedes at speeds estimated at 90 mph when she approached the intersection of La Brea and Slauson Avenues around 1:30 pm. Surveillance video captured her vehicle traveling at an excessive speed as it approached, blowing through the intersection after the red light had been activated for nine seconds. Linton’s vehicle struck several cars, killing four adults, an 11-month-old baby, and an unborn baby.
The people who were killed included a 23-year-old pregnant woman, her boyfriend, and her 11-month-old baby. Two others were also killed, including a 42-year-old woman and a 38-year-old woman.
Authorities reported investigators found that Linton had been involved in as many as 13 accidents before the Aug. 4 collision, leading to questions about how she could still have a license given her driving record. Her lawyer reportedly said that Linton has mental health issues. In the collision, Linton reportedly received moderate injuries, including a fractured wrist and a broken foot. Linton was charged with five counts of vehicular manslaughter and six counts of murder following the fatal collision.
Statistics on Fatalities Caused by Speeding or Running Red Lights
In its early estimates for 2021 crash data in the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 11,780 people died in speed-related motor vehicle collisions during that year. This was a year-over-year increase of 5% over the number of speeding-related fatalities in 2020. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 928 people were killed in accidents caused by motorists running red lights in the U.S. in 2020, and an estimated 116,000 others were injured in these types of crashes.
Several statutes apply to Linton’s conduct and this traffic collision. Under Cal. Veh. Code 21461(a), it is illegal for a motorist to disobey a traffic control device. This law is in place to prevent traffic collisions caused by motorists running red lights. In this case, the authorities reported the light had been red for nine seconds before Linton sped through it and caused the collision.
Linton reportedly was also traveling at speeds estimated at 90 miles per hour, which would be in violation of California’s basic speed law. Under Cal. Veh. Code 22350, it is illegal for anyone to drive at speeds greater than what is reasonably prudent given the weather, traffic conditions, and road conditions or at speeds that could threaten the safety of others.
The prima facie speed limit in business or residential districts in California is 25 mph under Cal. Veh. Code 22352(b) except where authorities have posted different speed limits. Traveling at 90 mph in the city is dangerous and qualifies as excessive speeding.
Because of her actions, Linton was charged with multiple counts of vehicular manslaughter under Cal. Pen. Code 192(c), which can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. When it is charged as a felony, it carries the potential of up to six years in prison per count. She was also charged with murder, which could carry significantly longer sentences ranging from 15 years up to life, depending on whether her actions are determined to be premeditated or not.
Liability in Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes
In addition to facing criminal liability for her actions, Linton could also face substantial civil liability. Depending on their relationships with the deceased victims, the surviving family members of each could pursue legal action against Linton through civil wrongful death lawsuits to hold her accountable and recover damages for the losses they have suffered.
Wrongful death civil lawsuits can be filed even though criminal charges are already pending. Unlike the criminal charges Linton is facing, wrongful death lawsuits do not involve the potential for prison time and operate under the state’s tort laws instead of the penal laws. Because of this, civil wrongful death lawsuits require a lower burden of proof than criminal cases, meaning that it might be possible for the surviving family members to hold Linton accountable even if she is found not guilty at a criminal trial.
Under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 377.60, the state allows the following parties to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against those who cause the deaths of their loved ones:
- Surviving spouse
- Domestic partner
- Heirs entitled to recover by the state’s intestate succession laws
- Legal guardian
- Putative spouse who was dependent on the deceased victim
Another type of action that could be filed is a survival action, which is found in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 377.30. This type of case can be filed to recover compensation for the deceased victim’s losses. For example, if one of the deceased victims survived for a time and incurred medical expenses, a survival action could be filed. However, the range of damages available in a survival action is not as extensive as they are in a wrongful death action.
Negligence and Negligence Per Se
Wrongful death claims typically involve negligence causes of action. To prove Linton was negligent, the plaintiffs would need to prove the following elements:
- The defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care and caution while driving to the victims.
- The defendant violated the duty of care.
- The defendant’s violation of the duty of care caused the accident and the deaths of the victims.
- The surviving family members suffered calculable damages as a result.
However, when a defendant’s actions that led to an accident also violated the state’s laws, the plaintiffs can pursue negligence per se causes of action. Negligence per se involves situations in which a defendant’s actions that caused a crash broke other laws. When a defendant’s conduct broke other laws, the plaintiffs do not need to prove that the defendant was negligent. This makes the burden of proof a little easier for the plaintiffs. In Linton’s case, she appears to have violated multiple laws that the plaintiffs could use to support negligence per se causes of action.
In a wrongful death lawsuit against Linton, the families will likely seek compensatory damages. These are damages that compensate the family members for their economic and non-economic losses. Some of the recoverable damages might include the following:
- Loss of the financial support the deceased victim would have contributed to their family over their expected lifespan or that of the plaintiff
- Loss of gifts the deceased victim would have given to the plaintiff
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the value of the deceased victim’s household services
- Loss of companionship, love, and guidance
- Loss of consortium
Punitive damages are not available in wrongful death lawsuits, but they might be available in a survival action against the defendant. A survival action can only be filed if the victim suffered economic losses before succumbing to their injuries, which might include medical bills to treat their injuries or property damage. In a case in which the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent like it appears in Linton’s case, some of the surviving family members might opt to pursue a survival action against Linton to try to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are ordered in addition to compensatory damages to punish the defendant when their conduct was grossly negligent, willful, or wanton.
One issue the surviving family members will likely encounter is the available insurance to cover their losses. California only requires motorists to carry auto insurance in the following minimal amounts:
- $15,000 bodily injury for one person
- $30,000 bodily injury for two or more victims per accident
- $5,000 in property damage
While people can choose to purchase insurance in higher amounts, if Linton only had the minimum liability insurance coverage, all of the surviving family members would be limited to an aggregate of $30,000 in bodily injury, which means the policy limits would be divided among each of them. Even if Linton had insurance with higher coverage amounts, it is unlikely her insurance coverage would be enough to pay damages to all of the surviving family members. In that scenario, an experienced injury lawyer would look for other potential sources of recovery. For example, if a deceased victim had UM/UIM coverage, filing a claim with that policy might help to make up a portion of the difference between the losses suffered and Linton’s policy limits.
Speak to an Injury Lawyer
If you have lost a loved one in a fatal car accident caused by the actions of a negligent motorist, you should talk to an attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. Call us for a free consultation today at 866-966-5240.