The Driver Who Sued Herself (And Won)

When tragedy strikes, and after the grieving process has begun and some time has passed, the survivors of the victims often search for answers — an explanation as to what happened, why it happened, and who if anyone is at fault. And when fault is somewhat clear, a lawsuit is often next to come, with the victim’s next of kin taking steps to obtain some sort of financial restitution for the loss of their loved one.

That, basically, is what happened in the matter of Bradley Vom Baur. It’s a sad story but unfortunately a common one.  According to a Utah Court of Appeals decision (here, pdf), “on December 27, 2011, Vom Baur and Defendant were driving in Nevada with Defendant at the wheel. Defendant lost control of the vehicle causing it to flip. Vom Baur died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.” In short, Bradley Vom Baur died because of the acts of the person behind the wheel, and assuming that the driver was negligent, Vom Baur’s heir should have been able to collect damages. And to make matters easier, the defendant, a woman named Barbara Bagley, freely admitted that she was negligent.

The only problem? Barbara Bagley was Bradley Vom Baur’s wife, and therefore, his heir. If the lawsuit prevailed, she’d be the one collecting the money. And she was suing herself.

Bagley, the plaintiff, was suing Bagley, the defendant, for losses stemming from “medical, funeral costs and mental anguish,” according to CBS Las Vegas. That sounds like a waste of everyone’s time — win or lose, Bagley appears to be paying herself (and her lawyers), so why bother? But a further examination of the case shows what was really going on: this was about insurance.

Bagley the defendant, like most other drivers in the U.S., had automobile insurance. And in cases where a driver’s accident causes damages — including, as in this case, bodily harm or death to someone else — the insurance company will typically be on the hook for those damages. So in the case of Bagley vs. herself, she was really suing to get her insurance company to pay for the damages she had caused.

And she wasn’t just trying to get the insurance company to pay her, either — there was another party involved. As the St. Lake Tribune reported, Bagley not only sued as herself, but also as the person in charge of her husband’s estate. And she may not have had much of a choice in the matter, claiming that as the representative of that estate, she had an obligation to go after any money the estate was rightfully entitled to. This was also important because while Bagley would end up with most of the money from the estate, there were other bills to pay — funeral expenses, for example — which came first.

Ultimately, there were two plaintiffs — Bagley as heir and Bagley as personal representative of the estate — suing one defendant, who for all intents and purposes was Bagley’s insurance company. But in lay terms, Barbara Bagley was suing herself. And that lawsuit was likely successful. At first, the claim was denied, because it’s sounds like bad policy if someone can sue themselves for killing another person. But the appeals court reviewed the text of the law and found that there was nothing preventing Ms. Bagley from suing herself. (And really, that’s probably the right outcome, regardless of how crazy that sounds; as Lowering the Bar notes, if someone else were the estate’s representative, many of the problems would go away.)

The insurance companies, at last report, were considering an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.



Bonus Fact: In 2005, an Illinois real estate agent named Emert Wyss noticed that one of his clients was, potentially, the victim of an unlawfully aggressive mortgage company. When the client went to refinance her loan, the company, Alliance Mortgage, charged her a $60 fax fee, which probably wasn’t allowed. Smelling the potential bounties of a class action lawsuit against Alliance, Wyss filed suit. But it turned out that Alliance wasn’t the source of the fax fee. The potentially illegal fee was being charged by the title company, Centerre Title. Centerre was owned by a man named Emert Wyss. Wyss had, accidentally, sued himself.

From the Archives: Dun-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh Lawsuit!: Batman versus Batman.

Take the Quiz: Can you name the movie from the fictional lawsuit?

Related: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Lawsuits.