An interesting wrongful death case was recently decided by the Utah Supreme Court. In the case of Bagley v. Bagley, 2016 UT 48 (Utah 2016), the Court determined that a personal representative or heir of an estate can actually sue themselves for negligently causing the death or injury of the descendent.
The case involved a motor vehicle accident in which the personal representative and heir, Barbara Bagley, who was driving, flipped her Range Rover after losing control of the vehicle. Her common-law husband, Vom Bauer, died ten days later from the injuries he sustained in the accident.
In her capacity as both the personal representative and heir, Ms. Bagley sued herself individually pursuant to the state's wrongful death and survival action statutes, claiming that she caused the death of Bauer through her own negligence. She also sued State Farm Insurance Company, the carrier of her automobile insurance policy, to compel them to indemnify (compensate) her for the loss of her husband. The complaint was dismissed by the district court because they determined that a person cannot be named the plaintiff and defendant at the same time in a wrongful death or survival action suit. However, the court of appeals reversed this decision, which granted Bagley the right to continue her lawsuit. State Farm then petitioned the Utah Supreme to dismiss the case, claiming that the appellate court misinterpreted the Utah code, sections 783-B-106 and 783-B-107, when it determined that the law allowed a personal representative to sue themselves as the defendant tortfeasor (person who caused harm). Its second argument claimed that even if the law did allow Bagley to sue herself for the wrongful death, that Utah’s “absurdity” doctrine and the “slayer” statutes, among others, prohibits Bagley from benefitting financially from the death of her husband.
The Supreme Court reviewed the applicable sections of the code and statutes, and after interpreting the meaning of the plain language within, affirmed the appellate court’s ruling. The Court held that the court of appeals did not misinterpret the plain meaning of the law when it decided that the statutes allow a person who is a personal representative or heir to sue themselves as an individual for causing a decedent’s death or injury, even if the person is their own spouse. This ruling allowed Bagley to continue her lawsuit and collect damages for herself from her insurer, State Farm, for the injuries and death she herself caused as the driver of the vehicle.
As you can see, personal injury cases and the applicable law can be surprising, as well as difficult to understand. Why not call the attorneys at Spencer & Collier, LLC at 801-566-1884 to help you with your legal needs?