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As personal representative of her late husband's estate and his sole heir, Utahn Barbara Bagley sued the driver who she claims caused his death herself.
But attorneys for driver Bagley, whose interests are represented by her insurance carrier, counter that Utah law does not permit the widow to sue herself.
On Wednesday, the two sides squared off before the Utah Supreme Court on the issue of whether Bagley's wrongful-death suit can proceed.
Peter H. Christensen, an attorney for driver Bagley, argued that the law on its face bars the suit. In addition, he said that allowing Bagley to be both plaintiff and defendant would be giving a pass to an at-fault driver.
"We do not want to be incentivizing people to sue themselves," Christensen said
Mark Rose, the attorney for personal representative and heir Bagley, said the issue of whether his client could receive any damages is not before the high court. And nothing in the law precludes Bagley from bringing the suit, he said.
"We have brought a valid cause of action," Rose said.
Justice Deno Himonas asked hypothetically whether Bagley could sue so other heirs or creditors could collect. And Justice Christine Durham while acknowledging practical questions in handling a case where the plaintiff and defendant are the same person said the personal representative serves on behalf of the estate, not in a personal capacity.
The justices took the case under consideration and will issue a ruling later.
According to court documents, Bagley lost control of a Range Rover she was driving in the Nevada desert east of Battle Mountain on Dec. 27, 2011, and the vehicle flipped upside down. Her husband, 55-year-old Bradley Vom Baur, was thrown from the vehicle and suffered severe injuries. He was taken to a hospital, where he died Jan. 6, 2012.
Bagley claims in her suit that she was negligent for failing to maintain a proper lookout and to keep her vehicle under proper control. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages that include medical and funeral expenses; loss of past and future financial support; the physical pain Vom Baur suffered before he died from his injuries; and the loss of his love and companionship.
Third District Judge Paul Maughan dismissed the case in January 2014 on a motion by attorneys for driver Bagley. But on February 2015, the Utah Court of Appeals court reinstated the suit, saying in a 3-0 ruling that Utah statutes do not bar Bagley from seeking damages from herself. That ruling was appealed.
The attorneys representing Bagley in her capacity as personal representative, have said she 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 heir, could get any money from the estate.
Rose said Wednesday that he did not have a chance before the motion to dismiss was filed to list the estate's creditors, but based on the information he has, Bagley will not get anything as heir.