Unusual case exploits gray area in Utah’s wrongful death law.
The loss of a loved one is always a terrible hardship. In cases where the death was caused by the reckless or negligent actions of another party, at the very least there may be the minimal comfort of securing compensation for the loss via a wrongful death lawsuit. But what if you were the party responsible for the death? Can the court order you to compensate yourself for your own loss?
This question will have to be answered in the case of Barbara Bagley, a Utah woman who has recently won an appeals case regarding her right to sue herself for her husband’s wrongful death. The accident occurred at the end of 2011, when the Range Rover Bagley was driving struck a large sagebrush and overturned in the desert near Battle Mountain, Nevada. Bagley’s husband was thrown from the vehicle and later died of his injuries.
Bagley filed a wrongful death lawsuit against herself, alleging that she was negligent because she failed to keep a proper lookout for obstacles and keep her vehicle under control. She sought damages for her husband’s medical and funeral costs, loss of financial support from his income, his pain and suffering, and loss of companionship.
In January of 2014, a District Court dismissed the case, but earlier this year an Appeals Court reinstated the case after finding that Utah state law does not bar an individual from suing themselves in a wrongful death case. The difference of opinion between the two courts stems from the interpretation of a key phrase in the law, which states that heirs or personal representatives of an estate can sue when a death is caused by the wrongful act or neglect “of another.” The Appeals Court found that “of another” means any person other than the deceased person, and therefore gave the case the go-ahead to proceed.
Bagley’s attorneys report she is seeking compensation for the sake of the estate, rather than for her personal gain. Any compensation received from Bagley’s insurance company would be directed to the creditors of the estate before being available to Bagley herself.
Even without the added confusion present in this case, the ins and outs of an ordinary wrongful death suit, including which individuals may bring the suit and how any compensation will be divided among them, can be complicated enough. Do not go through the process alone. Instead, hire an experienced wrongful death attorney like Fernando D. Vargas who can guide you through the entire process, providing the assistance needed to secure vital evidence and bring your case to the most satisfying conclusion possible.