Thursday, November 3, 2016

Utah Supreme Court Allows Woman to Sue Herself

Barbara Bagley was the common law wife of Bradley Vom Baur. (Common law marriages are recognized in Utah, but not in Illinois.) In December 2011, Ms. Bagley and Mr. Vom Baur were travelling together in their vehicle. Ms. Bagley was driving. She lost control of the vehicle and it flipped over. Mr. Vom Baur was severely injured and eventually died from the injuries he sustained in the accident. 

Ms. Bagley had automobile insurance at the time, but there was a dispute as to the amount that the insurance company would pay. In order to resolve the disputed claim, Ms. Bagley had to file a lawsuit. The only problem was that Ms. Bagley was the proper plaintiff because she was her husband's sole heir. However, she was also the proper defendant because she was the driver of the car that caused his death and the insured under the policy in question. 

As a result, Ms. Bagley had to sue herself...twice. As her husband's sole heir, Ms. Bagley sued herself, individually, under Utah's wrongful death statute in order to recover damages that she incurred as a result of her husband's death for loss of companionship, comfort, care, financial support, etc. As the personal representative of her husband's estate, Ms. Bagley also sued herself, individually, under Utah's survival action statute in order to recover damages that her husband incurred for pain and suffering, medical bills, funeral expenses, etc. 

So, what do you think Ms. Bagley did after she sued herself? She filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit! The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. (I was going to say that she won the motion to dismiss, but she lost it too so this is getting very confusing.) The trial court ruled that a person causing someone's death cannot bring a survival action against himself or herself for damages.

So, what do you think Ms. Bagley did after the lawsuit against herself was dismissed? She appealed! The appellate court reversed the trial court. The appellate court ruled that neither the wrongful death statute nor the survival statute prevented someone from suing himself or herself for damages.

So, what do you think Ms. Bagley did after the appellate court said that she could sue herself? She appealed to the Utah Supreme Court! In the supreme court, Ms. Bagley, the plaintiff, raised the absurd consequences canon, while Ms. Bagley, the defendant, raised the absurdity doctrine. After a review of the absurd consequences canon and the absurdity doctrine, both of which seem entirely appropriate in this case, the supreme court eventually found in favor of Ms. Bagley, the plaintiff, and ruled that neither the wrongful death statute nor the survival statute prevented someone from suing himself or herself for damages.

Bagley v. Bagley, 2016 UT 48.

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