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Utah woman can sue herself over fatal car accident, ruling says

First Published      Last Updated Feb 18 2015 10:19 pm

Courts » Wife suing on behalf of late husband’s estate says her negligence caused his death.

The Utah Court of Appeals has given Barbara Bagley the go-ahead to proceed with a wrongful-death lawsuit against herself for alleged negligence in an accident that killed her spouse.

Bagley, as personal representative of the estate of her late husband, is suing driver Bagley, whose interests in the case are represented by her insurance carrier, according to the appeals court ruling. She seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages that include medical and funeral expenses; loss of past and future financial support; the physical pain her husband, Bradley Vom Baur, suffered before he died from his injuries; and the loss of his love and companionship.



According to court documents, Bagley lost control of a Range Rover she was driving in the desert 17 miles east of Battle Mountain, Nev., on Dec. 27, 2011, when she hit a big sagebrush, causing the vehicle to flip upside down.

Her husband was thrown from the vehicle and suffered severe injuries. The 55-year-old was taken to Battle Mountain General Hospital, where he died Jan. 6, 2012. The couple's Shetland sheepdog, which was in the vehicle and ran after the crash, survived 53 days in the desert before being found.

In her suit, Bagley claims she was negligent for failing to maintain a proper lookout and to keep her vehicle under proper control.

Third District Judge Paul Maughan dismissed the case in January 2014.

But last week, the appeals court reinstated the suit, saying in a 3-0 ruling that Utah statutes do not bar Bagley from seeking damages from herself.

Mark Rose and Reid Tateoka, the attorneys representing the widow in her capacity as personal representative, said Bagley sued to meet her legal responsibility to act to benefit the estate, not herself. By law, creditors will have to be paid before Bagley, as her husband's sole heir, could get any money from the estate.

"She can't, by law, look out for herself," Tateoka said Tuesday. "She has to look out for the estate."

Lawyers representing driver Bagley in the wrongful-death suit point out that in similar scenarios in other states, courts have held that allowing those at fault to recover damages would be unjust.

"Further, if this suit is allowed to continue, a jury would be asked to determine whether Barbara Bagley's fault caused Barbara Bagley's own harm," attorneys Peter Christensen and Kathryn Tunacik Smith said in a motion to dismiss the suit. "The jury would be asked to determine how much money will fairly compensate Barbara Bagley for the harm she caused herself. The jury will be highly confused — it cannot order a person to compensate herself."

In its decision, the appeals court focused on the phrase "of another" in two statutes.

The wrongful-death law says heirs or personal representatives can sue when the death of a person is caused "by the wrongful act or neglect of another," and the survival action law also allows for similar lawsuits.

Driver Bagley's attorneys argued that the phrase "of another" means heirs or personal representatives cannot sue themselves if they caused the injury or death.

The appeals court disagreed and said the phrase "of another" means someone other than the injured or deceased person — and that allows Bagley, as personal representative, to sue herself.

Christensen said Tuesday that no decision has been made yet on whether to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

 

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